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‘Trample the lion’: Inspired Matt Coghlin delivers MSU’s winning kick

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Michigan State's Matt Coghlin (4) is congratulated by teammates Matt Seybert (80) and Dante Razzano after his winning field goal.

East Lansing — Seven years ago as Michigan State was getting set to play Penn State in the regular-season finale with a Big Ten championship on the line, coach Mark Dantonio asked his team if it knew what was said in Psalm 91.

Then quarterback Kirk Cousins said he did, reciting the key phrase that said, “trample the lion.”

On Saturday night, as Matt Coghlin got ready to run out on the field and attempt a 34-yard field goal with four seconds on the clock and Michigan State and Penn State tied at 24, Dantonio stopped him and handed him a card.

On that card was the same verse.

Coghlin, the redshirt freshman who missed twice last week in Michigan State’s triple-overtime loss at Northwestern, waited through Penn State’s final timeout, then calmly split the uprights to give No. 24 Michigan State a 27-24 victory over No. 7 Penn State.

“I gave it to him and said, ‘Take it easy,’” Dantonio recalled after the game. “I didn’t say anything about missing. I said, ‘Don’t worry about it. No stress. Kick the ball through.’”

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Coghlin did just that and the celebration was on. As his teammates streamed onto the field, Coghlin simply sprinted, finally ending with a slide along the wet turf that had endured a deluge of rain that was part of a three-hour, 22-minute delay.

“For the first part, I was just thinking about trusting myself,” Coghlin said. “I’ve done that kick a million times. The offense set it up great right in the middle where I wanted it. Then trusting myself to do the same exact thing I’ve done a million times. Just keep my head down and ankle up, that’s what I was telling myself back there. Just having the perfect snap, the perfect hold, and then I wasn’t really thinking about the celebration. I was just kind of running away because I didn’t want to get trampled, then just dove on the ground.”

It was similar to two years ago when Michigan State went to Ohio State and won on the final play when Michael Geiger — who wore No. 4 like Coghlin — kicked the winning field goal to set off a celebration still played at Michigan State.

Junior receiver Felton Davis was in Columbus that day in 2015 and on Saturday night simply had faith, deciding it was too much to see the play himself.

“I really couldn’t even watch it,” Davis said. “I had a lot of faith in (Coghlin), though. Coach puts him in that positon so many times throughout the week when he goes to kick the field goal and everybody on the team tries to do something to make him miss.

“But that’s what he came here to do, kick the ball.”

The kick from Geiger two years ago propelled Michigan State to a Big Ten championship and a spot in the College Football Playoff.

A playoff spot seems unlikely now, but as Michigan State (7-2, 5-1 Big Ten) heads to Ohio State next week the chance at another conference title is still there. Get a win over the Buckeyes and the Spartans are in control.

Coghlin, who entered the game 7-for-11 on field goals this season, helped make that a reality, just like his predecessor did.

“It’s up there,” Coghlin said when asked if this was his biggest moment. “I mean, I think back to my sophomore year in high school kicking a game winner against St. Xavier. That was pretty special, but I still haven’t had that much time to take in this moment. It is definitely up there, and I’m just extremely blessed and happy right now.

“Just pure happiness on a win and just being able to get it done for my brothers is just an awesome feeling.”