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Dallas — It's difficult to avoid a replay of LJ Scott's last-minute touchdown in the Big Ten Championship game these days.

As No. 3 Michigan State prepares to face No. 2 Alabama on the Cotton Bowl on Thursday as part of the College Football Playoff, the play that put the Spartans in this position is on a heavy loop on everything from ESPN to social media.

There's Scott, taking the handoff from quarterback Connor Cook and getting hit by Iowa defenders near the 2-yard line, spinning back toward the end zone and reaching the ball out toward the goal line, holding the ball just briefly with his arm extended before maneuvering it around a diving Hawkeyes player and pushing it across the plane for the touchdown.

Recalling that play on Monday had Scott flashing a sheepish grin.

"I just got lucky, I guess," he said.

It would be hard to call what the true freshman did on that final drive of Michigan State's 16-13 victory over Iowa as luck. The drive lasted 22 plays and Scott carried the ball 14 times, picking up three key first downs along the way before finally providing the decisive touchdown.

Center Jack Allen recalled Monday how he looked at Scott in the huddle at one point and the visor on his mask was saturated with sweat and Scott was repeatedly shaking the moisture away. Fellow running back Madre London talked about telling his teammate during timeouts to keep doing it for everyone he loved — his teammates, his family.

Scott simply replied, "I got it."

Fourteen carries for 40 yards, the last one the most important of the true freshman's career.

"Everybody was depending on me and I knew I was getting the ball," Scott said. "Everybody was counting on me and I had to be that guy."

Scott said he made a mistake when he turned his back to the defenders and at first thought he would be stopped. But then he spun and stretched out the ball, insisting he never saw the defender lunging for the ball but admitting it was odd how he moved the ball out of the way, almost out of pure instinct.

"Hard work, dedication, motivation," Scott said. "We had all these goals to reach higher and get to this point we're at and now we're where we want to be."

So no, it wasn't luck. In fact, Scott has done it before.

As a junior at Hubbard (Ohio) High, Scott scored in similar fashion to beat Poland in overtime. He said someone sent him photos of both plays on a split screen.

This time was a bit bigger, he admitted.

"All it took was effort," he said.

There are plenty of reasons Michigan State put that winning drive together, and there are plenty more that put the Spartans in position to even pull it off. But there's little doubt that Scott is emerging as something special.

In a Cotton Bowl matchup that will feature Derrick Henry, the Heisman Trophy winning running back from Alabama, almost as many eyes will be on Scott.

"He's a good back," Alabama defensive end A'Shawn Robinson said. "He's a physical back that runs hard and we've got to get off our blocks and go get him."

It's been a bit of a roller coaster of a season for the former four-start recruit out of Hubbard, Ohio. He was impressive early in the season, scoring twice in the win over Oregon and starting Big Ten play with three consecutive games of scoring two touchdowns.

Against Purdue, he rushed for 146 yards, the first 100-yard game of his career.

But then the shuffling of four running backs saw his carries fluctuate drastically as Gerald Holmes emerged following an injury to London and Scott's playing time took an even bigger hit when he fumbled on his only two carries against Maryland.

On Monday, Scott called the season a bit of a "teeter-totter."

And by the time Michigan State traveled to Ohio State on Nov. 21, Scott was seeing his most infrequent action of the season.

But in the fourth quarter at Ohio Stadium, it all turned when the game — and the season — hung in the balance. Michigan State started a drive at its own 4 with the game tied at 14-14. The first carry went to Scott and he broke it for 20 yards. The next three plays all went to Scott, and though the Spartans had to eventually punt, the drive flipped the field.

The defense answered with a three-and-out, and when the MSU offense came back out, it was Scott who stayed in the game. He carried six more times, his final 3-yard gain setting up Michael Geiger's game-winning field goal.

Two weeks later, in the conference title game, Scott was once again the go-to guy when it mattered most.

Fourteen carries in the final nine minutes from Michigan State's closer.

"Madre and Gerald wear them down and I come in and just finish them," Scott said.

Scott, who leads Michigan State with 691 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns, understands it will only get harder from this point forward as Alabama is the leading rushing defense in the nation, giving up just 74 yards a game.

"They're a good team over there," Scott said. "They've got some big dudes, physical. But every team has got a weakness and we'll try to challenge them and see what it is."

He won't be the only guy to carry the ball. Holmes and London will get carries, and junior Delton Williams could see some time, as well.

But if the Spartans need crucial yards at crunch time, Scott could likely be called on once again.

"I'll be asking for it again," Scott said. "I'm always ready to go in."

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/mattcharboneau

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