Shocker! MSU stuns Michigan on final play

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — With 10 seconds left, Michigan State miraculously pulled off a stunning win over Michigan to keep its in-state series domination intact.

Michigan punter Blake O’Neill took a low snap from Scott Sypniewski, dropped it, picked it up and spun around as though he was going to kick it but fumbled, the lone turnover of the game. Michigan State’s Jalen Watts-Jackson scored on a 38-yard return, giving the Spartans a 27-23 victory on Saturday at Michigan Stadium.

Watts-Jackson suffered a dislocated or broken hip on the play and was taken to the hospital, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio told reporters after the game, but said it was unclear whether it happened then or during the celebration.

The Spartans have won seven of the last eight against Michigan and three straight. Michigan State, ranked No. 7, remains unbeaten at 7-0, 3-0 Big Ten. Michigan, which entered the game ranked No. 12, is 5-2, 2-1 Big Ten.

BOX SCORE: Michigan State 27, Michigan 23

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh called the fumble by O’Neill “unfortunate”.

“The snap was low, it was below the knees,” Harbaugh said. “He didn’t field it cleanly, and it looked like he bobbled it again and kicked it a little bit. He looked like he was trying to kick it when he was in traffic. I mean, you saw it. Is that not the way you saw it? Very unfortunate. Talked to him, he said he bobbled it and a mistake was made. Mistakes were made. Mistakes were made not fielding it cleanly. He bobbled it a few times. He should have just fell on it. So mistakes were made. Very unfortunate circumstances.

“Our guys played big in a big game, overcame so much, calls that were made and calls that weren’t made. Just kept fighting. Ultimately played winning football. What do you say about the final play? It was unfortunate. Didn’t get the result. They played really well, played winning football, competed like maniacs, both teams did. It was a heckuva game. Played winning football, didn’t get the result. Welcome to football. Move forward.”

Dantonio described the emotions of feeling like the game was lost to the exhilaration of winning.

“Great football game. I don’t know what to say about that,” Dantonio said. “You go from 10 seconds the guy punting the ball and thinking, ‘OK, this is done,’ then all of a sudden life gets flipped upside down and we come out on the top of it. I thought it was great effort by both football teams.

“I thought it was a very well-played game. Intense, and that’s what I looked for from our football team when we came down here. Wanted to make sure we came mentally and we were four times stronger than we were physically. That was our message to our players. We knew we would have to weather the storm or be the storm. I think we weathered it pretty much throughout the game. I think we kept bouncing back and never got the lead and then at the end of day I guess we stormed back with an 11-man block. We put all 11 up there and things happen. Football is a crazy, crazy game. I can’t really explain it, but we just had a belief. There was a belief in what went down.”

With ESPN’s GameDay here for the matchup the game was hyped all week, in part because it was the first game of the series for Harbaugh as Michigan coach and because the winner would become a firm — and in MSU’s case, an even firmer — contender for the Big Ten East division and, perhaps, national playoff consideration.

The game lived up to that hype.

Players on both sides said the outcome hadn’t really sunk in.

“Honestly it felt like I was in a dream,” said MSU quarterback Connor Cook, who was 18-of-39 for 328 yards and a touchdown. “I was running over to our student section, our parent section and celebrating with my family. Honestly, I’ve never felt anything like that. Honestly, it felt like I was in a dream.”

Michigan kicker Kenny Allen, who made three field goals, described numbness that had set in among the Wolverines in the locker room.

“It hasn’t really hit me yet,” Allen said.  “We played hard and we played until the very end. It was kind of heartbreaking at the end. Not much to say about that.”

MSU's 'D' turns to freshmen, who deliver like veterans

Michigan State outgained Michigan 386-230 in offense, but neither team could muster much of a running game. The Spartans had 58 yards rushing, including two touchdowns from LJ Scott. The Wolverines had 62 yards, including 27 yards on one run from fullback Sione Houma, who also had two rushing touchdowns.

Neither team was efficient on third down, either. Michigan was 4-of-15 and Michigan State was 3-of-12. Michigan also was more penalized with eight for 70 yards. Harbaugh was asked if it should be assumed he was unhappy with the officiating as a whole.

“Yeah, you could say that,” Harbaugh said.

He was particularly incensed by the ejection of linebacker Joe Bolden in the second quarter for targeting. Cook had rushed for a six-yard gain which would have put the Spartans in third and 3 at the Michigan 39-yard line, but the Bolden personal foul gave the Spartans a first down at the Michigan 24-yard line. Two plays later, MSU tied the game, 7-7, on an 11-yard run by Scott.

“I tried to explain it to (the official) that Bolden was pushed in the back,” Harbaugh said. “It really should’ve been a push-in-the-back penalty. But his explanation was that the review people saw it the same way. Hard to fathom.”

Allen made his third field goal of the game, a 38-yarder, to swell Michigan’s lead to 23-14 with 9:25 left in the game. But Michigan State immediately responded, burning the Michigan defense with a 75-yard pass from Connor Cook to fullback Trevon Pendleton, ruled down at the 1-yard line after a review. Scott then scored his second touchdown of the game, cutting into Michigan’s lead, 23-21 with 8:56 left.

The Spartans were moving their final offensive series of the game beginning with 4:54 remaining. Cook took two sacks from Willie Henry for a combined 19 yards in the drive, the second sack putting MSU in a second and 19 at the Michigan 45-yard line. The Spartans took a timeout and Cook’s next two attempts were incomplete. After another timeout with 1:54 left, Cook threw incomplete to Macgarrett Kings Jr., who had scored in the third quarter on a 30-yard reception, as Jourdan Lewis broke up the pass.

This left Michigan with the ball and the lead and 1:47 left. Michigan had failed to run the ball effectively all game, and quarterback Jake Rudock was not a game-changer, completing 15-of-25 for 168 yards. De’Veon Smith rushed for eight yards on three plays and with fourth-and-2, Michigan called timeout with 10 seconds left and the decision was made for O’Neill, who had an 80-yard punt downed at the 2-yard line early in the game, to punt.

“The options were to go for it and leave a Hail Mary opportunity,” Harbaugh said, saying there would have been seven seconds left. “Ran through those scenarios and felt like the best decision was to punt it. When they lined up to the punt, (MSU) didn’t have any returners. It’s just a matter of catching the ball. Messed it up.”