‘Little Giants’ still a big memory for Michigan St

Aaron Bates remembers taking the snap, standing up and bouncing

lightly on his feet.

The Michigan State holder figured Notre Dame would be caught off

guard, but with the fake field goal actually in progress and the

defense reacting, he needed to stay calm. The man he was supposed

to throw to was caught up at the line of scrimmage, so Bates took a

few steps to his right.

”The old quarterback instincts – you kind of move where the

space is,” said Bates, who played quarterback in high school

before becoming a valuable punter for the Spartans. ”Just kind of

react. Don’t even think about it.”

Bates found an open man that night last September and completed

one of college football’s most dramatic passes of the season.

Charlie Gantt’s 29-yard touchdown catch in overtime gave the

Spartans a 34-31 victory over Notre Dame, and the play – called

”Little Giants” – was a much-needed boost for a Michigan State

program struggling to get over the hump.

The 15th-ranked Spartans play at Notre Dame on Saturday in a

much-anticipated rematch.

”Had it not won the football game, it would be a bad big play,

I guess,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. ”Because of

the circumstances in the game, all the circumstances after the

game, the whole thing, it probably took on a little bit more of a

meaning.”

Dantonio had a mild heart attack after the game, but he

eventually came back to lead Michigan State to a share of the Big

Ten title. It was quite an improvement for the Spartans, who went

6-7 the previous season and weren’t viewed as much of a threat

nationally before facing Notre Dame last year.

The Spartans trailed 31-28 in overtime that night and faced

fourth-and-14 when they lined up for what would have been a 46-yard

field goal. The kick was no gimme, so Dantonio called for a

fake.

”Obviously, we were all-in at that point. Thankfully, it worked

out for us,” linebacker Max Bullough said. ”It gives a lot of

confidence. It shows that Coach D has a lot of confidence in us as

players.”

The fake didn’t go exactly as planned. First, Michigan State let

the play clock run down – so low the Big East released a statement

the next day, just to confirm that officials handled the play

correctly when they didn’t call a delay of game penalty.

Then, Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell – who was supposed to be the

primary target – had to fight his way through traffic at the line.

As Bates began his impromptu rollout, Bell fell head over heels

while trying to shake loose – but two Notre Dame players went down

next to him, enabling Gantt to run free into the secondary.

”I knew the fake was available, and I knew it was something

that Coach Dantonio was interested in calling,” said quarterback

Kirk Cousins, who had come off the field after Michigan State’s

overtime drive stalled. ”But I didn’t know what the fake looked

like, didn’t know anything about it. I don’t pay a whole lot of

attention to that part of the game – let them handle that.

”I trusted Aaron, because I know Aaron well and I trust him

with the ball in his hands.”

It turned out to be a simple throw for Bates and a miserable

ending for the Irish.

”I think the down and distance was a bit of a surprise. We know

in that situation, regardless of it, we had to defend it better,”

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. ”But no, I thought it was a

great call. It worked.”

In the immediate aftermath, Dantonio’s health scare overshadowed

the play, but Michigan State was able to build on the win. The

Spartans started 8-0 en route to an 11-2 season, and ”Little

Giants” is the moment everyone seems to remember.

”I guess I’ve seen it enough times now,” said Bates, who is a

graduate student at Michigan State and has no football eligibility

left. ”It doesn’t quite get me as pumped up as it did.”

Dantonio has sought to downplay the memorable play. Beating

Notre Dame (0-2) again won’t be easy.

But if the Spartans (2-0) do add another win to this impressive

run they’re on, the significance of last season’s springboard will

only grow.

”It’s just another play at the end of a game that either you

win or sometimes you lose. I guess that’s the way I’ll always look

at it,” Dantonio said before smiling ever so slightly. ”Just glad

it worked.”