Last-second magic becoming common for Michigan State
Move over, Little Giants. You too, Rocket.
Michigan State’s latest last-second touchdown doesn’t have a name yet, but even compared to the Spartans’ previous dramatics under coach Mark Dantonio, this victory over Michigan was on an entirely different level.
”It’s soaking in, but at the same time, it’s probably just like it is on the other end,” Dantonio said Sunday. ”A little bit (of a) `What just happened?’ type of thing.”
In addition to all the victories – and all the strides Michigan State has made under Dantonio – the Spartans have also enjoyed their share of last-second celebrations. In 2010, Michigan State beat Notre Dame by scoring a touchdown on a fake field goal in overtime. That play was called ”Little Giants” – and the following season, ”Rocket” entered Spartans lore when Kirk Cousins heaved a pass that caromed to receiver Keith Nichol for a 44-yard TD that gave Michigan State a 37-31 win over Wisconsin.
Those wins were amazing, and obviously memorable, but beating Michigan is always different for the Spartans. And beating Michigan on a play like Saturday’s is almost indescribable. Leading 23-21, the Wolverines lined up to punt from around midfield with only 10 seconds left, but punter Blake O’Neill fumbled the snap, and in the ensuing scramble, Michigan State’s Jalen Watts-Jackson ended up with the ball and went 38 yards for a touchdown and a 27-23 win.
”Our players believed that they could block it or something would happen,” Dantonio said. ”Something obviously happened.”
Watts-Jackson hurt himself on the play and had surgery on his hip Sunday at University of Michigan hospital. That was only part of the fallout from the game’s extraordinary ending. A TV station in western Michigan apologized after a reporter who didn’t see the final play told viewers that Michigan had won the game.
Michigan athletic director Jim Hackett showed concern for O’Neill when he released an open letter Sunday.
”Today I awake to the shocking reality that our community who care so much about this program would send hurtful, spiteful and vicious comments to one of our students. To be clear, such comments come from a small minority, none of whom are reflective of our institution,” Hackett said. ”The program I know at MICHIGAN speaks about the team, the team the team. The people I have been associated with my whole life around this fantastic program – some whom are living and some whom have passed on – would never, I repeat never, spread blame.”
The Spartans remained at No. 7 in the AP poll Sunday, and Michigan fell three spots into a tie at No. 15.
Following Saturday’s game, Dantonio admitted he felt a bit numb after what had just taken place. The Spartans have won seven of their last eight meetings with Michigan, but they were underdogs in this one because of how well the Wolverines were playing under new coach Jim Harbaugh.
Dantonio spoke a bit after the game about those famous finishes against Notre Dame and Wisconsin, and he was asked if he had a name for this one.
”We’ll think of a good, catchy name,” he said.
On Sunday, he said he was taking suggestions – and depending on how far the still-undefeated Spartans go this season, this touchdown could end up being one of the most dramatic finishes in the annals of college football, up there with Auburn’s ”Kick-Six” against Alabama a couple seasons ago – or even California’s lateral-filled kickoff return to beat Stanford in 1982.
That thrilling ending – made famous because the Stanford band ran on the field during the return – is simply known as The Play. Now Michigan State has its own iconic moment to point to whenever its rivalry with Michigan flares up again.
”Honestly, it just felt like a dream,” Spartans quarterback Connor Cook said. ”I’ve never felt anything like that.”
AP College Football: www.collegefootball.ap.org