Spartans earn share of Big Ten title

Genaro C. Armas
Associated Press

State College, PA— Michigan State marched off the field toward
their sliver of boisterous, green-clad fans savoring a memorable trip to
chilly Happy Valley.

The 11th-ranked Spartans were headed home with a share of their first Big Ten title for the first time in two decades.

Edwin Baker ran for 118 yards and a touchdown, quarterback Kirk
Cousins threw for 152 yards and two touchdowns to B.J. Cunnigham, and
the defense held off a fourth-quarter charge by penalty-prone Penn State
for a 28-22 win at blustery Beaver Stadium.

“We’re Big Ten champions. No one can ever take it away from us,” Cousins said. “It’s going on the wall at Spartan Stadium.”

A rally was scheduled Saturday night at the Breslin Center in East
Lansing to welcome the team home after the momentous victory, though the
Spartans still have to wait and see whether it’s good enough for the
Rose Bowl.

No. 8 Ohio State beat Michigan
on Saturday, with No. 5 Wisconsin still to play. If all three teams
finish with one loss, the Bowl Championship Series standings would be
break the tie, and the Spartans came into the week trailing their Big
Ten rivals in those rankings.

Stoic as ever, coach Mark Dantonio put the spotlight on the hard-earned conference title.

“Our goal was to win the championship. That’s our No. 1 goal,” he
said. “Where people place us from there, we’ll still go to whatever bowl
we go to as Big Ten champions.”

Penn
State scored 19 fourth-quarter points, and fans had dreams of an
unlikely comeback after Matt McGloin found Derek Moye for a 4-yard
touchdown pass with 56 seconds left. Michigan State recovered the
ensuing onsides kick to finally seal the win after leading 14-3 at
halftime.

“We’ve got to learn to play a
full game,” McGloin said. “Today we came out flat, and we ended up”
playing well. McGloin finished 23 of 43 passing for 312 yards with two
fourth-quarter touchdowns and an interception.

Following an uneven start, he did become the first player in program
history with back-to-back 300-yard passing games. He also connected with
fullback Joe Suhey for a 25-yard touchdown pass that featured two
missed two-point conversion tries.

“I
thought we played very, very well until the end of the game,” Dantonio
said. “We could’ve ended it easily at 28-10, but we’ll take it.”

Bowl questions aside, Dantonio can relish an 11-win season and the
end of an eight-game road losing streak to Penn State for its first win
in Happy Valley since 1965 — the year before Joe Paterno took over as
head coach.

Penn State managed just a
34-yard field in the first half against a Spartans defense that gave up
85 yards and a touchdown to Evan Royster. Penalty flags sapped momentum,
too, for the Nittany Lions, especially in a choppy first half that left
them playing catch-up.

“I don’t know if
it cost us the game, but it sure had an impact on it,” Paterno said.
“But you know, every time we complain about something like that, it
takes something away from the other (team). I think Michigan State is a
good, solid football team.”

Jerel
Worthy’s sack of McGloin helped stop one early third-quarter drive, and
Penn State followed with another three-and-out deep in its own territory
and punted back to the Michigan State 48. Cousins followed with a
six-play, 52-yard drive capped by his second touchdown pass to
Cunningham for an 18-point lead.

The left
shoulder and left ankle injuries that had Cousins hobbling off the
field after last week’s win over Purdue weren’t bothering him Saturday.
He finished 17 of 22 passing.

In 2008,
the Spartans watched while Penn State players dance around the Beaver
Stadium field with roses in their mouths after a 49-18 rout sent the
Nittany Lions to the Rose Bowl. This time, it was Michigan State
savoring a season-ending victory for a title.

The young Nittany Lions, who start eight seniors, were
uncharacteristically undisciplined with eight penalties for 67 yards.
They had averaged an FBS-best 28 penalty yards per game.

The opening drive set the tone after Baker opened with a 16-yard
rush, and a third-and-4 at the Spartans 49 turned into a first down on
the Penn State 35 after defensive tackle Devon Still was called for a
late hit on Cousins.

Baker carried five
of the next six plays, capped by his 7-yard dash into the left front
pylon of the end zone for a 7-0 lead in a score upheld by replay review.

Nov. 27, 2010