Michigan State’s senior class had accomplished almost everything.
Monday, they checked off one final box, beating Georgia 33-30 in triple overtime in the Outback Bowl — Michigan State’s first bowl victory in a decade.
The win didn’t come on a Kirk Cousins touchdown pass or one of Mark Dantonio’s patented trick plays, but when Anthony Rashad White blocked a 47-yard field-goal attempt that would have sent the game to a fourth overtime.
White’s block only ended the game because of three key plays by the game’s most unlikely star, holder Brad Sonntag. Sonntag, who walked on at Michigan State after quarterbacking Saginaw Nouvel to the 2006 Class C state championship, saved the Spartans by getting several poor snaps into place for kicker Dan Conroy. The last was in the top of the third extra period, when Sonntag pulled down a high snap so that Conroy could put the Spartans ahead.
Two key mistakes could have handed Georgia the game earlier in overtime, but for this senior class, things went their way for one more day. Cousins was intercepted in the first overtime period, meaning Georgia could win the game with any kind of score.
Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt, though, made the bizarre decision to settle for a 43-yard field goal instead of trying to move the ball down the field. Senior kicker Blair Walsh, hardly the next coming of Jason Hanson, missed the kick to keep the Spartans alive.
After the teams traded field goals in the second session, Spartans receiver Keshawn Martin dropped a pass that would have put Michigan State inside the 10. Sonntag and Conroy made it 33-30, and William Gholston’s third-down sack forced Walsh into a longer field-goal attempt.
White, lined up in the center of the defensive line, rose up high enough to get his heavily taped hand on the ball, starting the celebration.
Typically for the Spartans, even regulation hadn’t been easy. On their first offensive play of the game, Martin was tackled in the end zone by Brandon Boykin, giving Georgia a 2-0 lead. It was 16-0 by the half, thanks to an 80-yard pass from Aaron Murray to Tavarres King and, moments later, a 92-yard punt return by Boykin.
Michigan State got back into the game in the third quarter on Le’Veon Bell’s 8-yard run and a 38-yard interception return by Darqueze Dennard, but Boykin popped up again — this time on offense — to catch a touchdown pass that made it 27-20 with 6:44 to play.
The Spartans appeared finished when Cousins was intercepted, but as they would during overtime, the quarterback was bailed out by the defense. They forced a punt, giving the Spartans the ball on their own 15 with 1:55 to play. Cousins was 7-of-9 for 62 yards, and even added a 20-yard scramble to the Georgia 18.
Bell scored from a yard out with 19 seconds left, and Conroy’s extra point sent the game to overtime.
And then, despite more mistakes that probably should have cost them the game, the winningest senior class in Michigan State history added the elusive bowl victory to their resume.
The next group? They have 292 days to prepare for Michigan.