South Bend, Ind. — Donnie Corley knows a little something about making big catches.
As a senior at Detroit King last fall, Corley made a 40-yard catch in the corner of the end zone on the final play of the game against Lowell to lead King to a 40-38 victory on the Division 2 state championship game.
Fast forward almost a year, and Corley was at Notre Dame Stadium, his second career game for Michigan State, making a play almost identical to the one he made for King in No. 12 Michigan State’s 36-28 victory over No. 18 Notre Dame.
“Yeah, it did (remind me of the state championship game),” Corley said. “A couple people were telling me, ‘It’s like the state championship.’ I didn’t think of it at first, but running it through my mind I thought it did look like that.”
The catch on Saturday against the Fighting Irish didn’t win the game on the final play, but it was impressive, nonetheless.
Michigan State had just taken advantage of a miscue by Notre Dame, a punt hitting the leg of the Irish’s Miles Boykin. The Spartans recovered at the Notre Dame 38, and on the next play, quarterback Tyler O’Connor went to Corley in the corner of the end zone.
The ball was underthrown and it was first in the hands of Notre Dame cornerback Cole Luck. Corley pulled it away and hauled the pass in for his first career touchdown.
“Coach is always telling me to stay on top of the route and slide under,” Corley said. “That is what I did. Tyler threw a great ball and I just wanted it more.”
It was the type of play Michigan State was counting on from Corley when they recruited him from King. Corley enrolled early at Michigan State and went through spring practice, drawing rave reviews from the coaching staff.
That didn’t end in preseason camp as Corley has been the only freshman out of an impressive class to play this season. His performance on Saturday was evidence as to why.
“We knew that Donnie was going to be a big-time player here,” O’Connor said. “We just did not know when it was going to happen. He made a big-time play when he almost ripped the ball out of the defender’s hands. I knew he was going to go up and get the jump ball. It’s what he likes to do.”
Corley, who finished with four catches for 88 yards, also came up big late in the game as Michigan State was trying to put the game away leading by just eight points. Facing a third-and-7 from their 17, O’Connor hit Corley for a 28-yard gain. Another first down two plays later sealed the victory.
“I just threw it to where I knew Donnie was,” O’Connor said. “The play is drawn up to be a deep shot but I knew he was wide open where he was running so I kind of just threw it at him. All we needed was a first down.”
And Corley wasn’t taking any chances.
“I just wanted to make a sure catch and get the first down,” Corley said. “I could have caught it and made a hard catch and kept running, but I wanted to make the sure catch.”
MSU QB Tyler O'Connor talks about win at Notre Dame.