MSU’s Lewis gets another chance at title
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Isaiah Lewis sprinted toward Wisconsin punter Brad Nortman, arriving a whisker late and diving in front of him.
A replay showed there was probably some contact with Nortman’s leg on the follow through — not much, but enough to draw the yellow flag that ended Michigan State’s chances of going to the Rose Bowl two seasons ago.
“I try not to think about it much,” Lewis said. “But yeah, if I do happen to think about it, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I want to get back and win on that field.”
Lewis will have that chance Saturday when No. 10 Michigan State faces No. 2 Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis. The penalty on Lewis for running into the kicker in 2011 enabled Wisconsin to run the clock out on a 42-39 win over the Spartans in that year’s league title game — and it negated a long return by Michigan State that might have changed the outcome.
It was a cruel way for the Spartans to lose, and one that Lewis certainly hasn’t forgotten.
“It was kind of hurtful like that whole year after that,” Lewis said. “I tried to forget about it before my junior year came up the next year, but yeah, it kind of lets you think about it for a little bit, just makes you think for a little bit, but at the same time you do have to let those things go.”
Now a senior, Lewis is part of a Michigan State defense that is ranked No. 1 in the country. The Spartans’ secondary — Lewis is a safety — has been crucial to the team’s success, preventing opposing quarterbacks from taking advantage when the rest of the defense focuses on shutting down the run.
Lewis was only a sophomore in 2011, but he had four interceptions that season. He was a big part of Michigan State’s defense then, too, starting all 14 games.
But it was a couple or mishaps near the end of the Big Ten title game — in Lewis’ hometown of Indianapolis — that stood out. First, Lewis was unable to stop a deep fourth-down pass late in the final quarter. That set up Wisconsin’s go-ahead touchdown.
After a Michigan State punt, the Spartans stopped Wisconsin, setting up Nortman’s punt. Lewis rushed from the left side of the line, aggressively trying for a block. His 5-yard penalty wasn’t flagrant, but it was enough to turn fourth-and-3 into a game-clinching first down.
“After the championship game Isaiah was hurt,” Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard said. “Talking to him after that game, he was like, `This is never going to happen again.’ Throughout these past two years he’s been busting his tail and doing everything he was asked to do. . He’s grown since that game.”
All that hard work brings Lewis back home this weekend. The Spartans have not played in the Rose Bowl since 1988, a fact that made the loss to Wisconsin in 2011 sting even more.
Michigan State didn’t look like a championship team at the start of this season, when coach Mark Dantonio was auditioning four different quarterbacks for the starting job. It was the defense that kept the Spartans afloat during that stretch, and it’s the defense that gives Michigan State a very real chance at an upset against Ohio State.
It’s an opportunity Lewis has been waiting for.
“You all don’t even know,” he said. “It’s crazy for me because two years ago, like you all know, it was a bad experience for me, bad ending for the game. . It’s going to be the experience of a lifetime to come down there, and this year we’re going to win that game, go out there and win. Just make sure it’s not the same story as last time.”