Matt Charboneau of The News talks about Michigan State beating Maryland on Senior Day to become bowl eligible. The Detroit News
East Lansing — The win wasn’t pretty, but how many have been for Michigan State?
The Spartans achieved the primary goal Saturday on Senior Day at Spartan Stadium, beating Maryland 19-16 in front of an announced crowd of just more than 51,000 that was much closer to 20,000.
A masterpiece it wasn’t, but when you’ve muddled through a disappointing season, just getting to a bowl game with the final two games against the likes of Rutgers and Maryland seemed more than attainable. Michigan State was far from perfect, but it managed to get the job done behind four Matt Coghlin field goals, the last coming from 33 yards out with 2:14 to play.
“Obviously, it wasn't the prettiest win but I'm proud of the guys the way we kept fighting and kept battling,” fifth-year senior defensive end Kenny Willekes said. “It is kind of the way the season has gone, a lot of ups and downs, but to be able to come out and get that sixth win and continue to battle even after we gave up a couple of plays or we got down late in the game, you know, continue to battle and to come out with a victory that means the world.”
Michigan State (6-6, 4-5 Big Ten) is now bowl eligible for the 12th time in 13 seasons under Mark Dantonio, and where it goes is still up in the air with the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit probably the favorite at this point.
But Dantonio wasn’t worried about where the Spartans would play next. Instead, it was simply about getting there, something he likened to 2012 when Michigan State needed to win at Minnesota in the final week to reach a bowl game. The team did, sparking an unprecedented three-year run that included two Big Ten titles and a playoff appearance.
Whether this one leads to something similar is impossible to determine, but it was a necessary step. It even had Dantonio buying hats for the entire team that repeated Dantonio’s mantra on the back — “Program win.”
“It was about a $4 hat, just a floppy thing,” Dantonio said. “I felt like, hey, you need to have something to hang onto and point towards. They didn't get the hats until Friday, but we did that in 2012 and I hung that hat in my office up where I put a bunch of stuff up there. That hat had significance. That ’12 hat had significance because it was a must-type win, it was a must-win.
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio talks about becoming bowl eligible with the victory over Maryland. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
“Sometimes when you're working for a must-win, you press a little bit. We got it done in '12 and I thought that this was a must-win for our football team and our program, just to get back to .500. It's not been an especially enjoyable year but it's been enjoyable being around our football team and our players.”
It helped having Coghlin on a day the Michigan State offensive moved the ball but failed to find the end zone more than once. The junior was good on kicks of 40, 36, 32 and 33 yards while he missed from 45 yards. Quarterback Brian Lewerke, who threw for 342 yards but was intercepted twice, had a 1-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
Sophomore Anthony McFarland ran for 134 yards, highlighted by a 63-yard touchdown run in the third quarter for Maryland (3-9, 1-8), which couldn’t overcome three first-half turnovers. Dontay Demus’ 44-yard touchdown grab from Josh Jackson (Saline) accounted for the Terrapins’ other touchdown while they added a third-quarter field goal.
“I thought we played for 60 minutes, which we haven't done in a few weeks and so I thought our guys showed a lot of heart, especially our seniors,” Maryland coach Mike Locksley said. “I can't thank those seniors enough, 16 guys that have played their last game as Terps for the leadership that they displayed for a tough year. There is no doubt that we have a lot of work to do.”
Michigan State scored easily on the opening drive of the game, getting a 40-yard field goal from Coghlin to take a 3-0 lead. However, the drive was a sign of things to come as it stalled deep in Maryland territory.
The next three Spartans drives started at the Maryland 46, the Maryland 18 and the 50. None resulted in points as Michigan State was stuffed on fourth-and-1 from the Terrapins’ 3-yard line then Lewerke threw back-to-to back interceptions, which negated a forced fumble by linebacker Antjuan Simmons.
Maryland took advantage of the second interception and scored two plays later when Jackson hit sophomore receiver Demus with a 44-yard scoring strike to give the Terrapins a 7-3 lead with 47 seconds left in the first quarter. Michigan State responded with another drive that ran out of gas in the red zone and settled for Coghlin’s second field goal, this one a 36-yarder to pull the Spartans within 7-6. Michigan State then regained the lead on Lewerke’s 1-yard touchdown run to make it 13-7 with 3:08 left in the half.
Michigan State seniors Brian Lewerke, Kenny Willekes and David Dowell talk about winning on Senior Day to become bowl eligible. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
“Obviously, it wasn't the greatest game,” Lewerke said. “We should have had some more points on the board, but at the end of the day a win is a win and it's our sixth win and we are going to a bowl game and that's the minimum standard around here. We want to make sure we reach that, so a win is a win.”
Maryland opened the second half with 33-yard field goal from sophomore Joseph Petrino to pull the Terrapins within 13-10 with 12:47 left in the third quarter. And after forcing Michigan State to go three-and-out, the Terps went ahead on a 63-yard run from McFarland. The extra point was no good, giving Maryland a 16-13 advantage with 11:10 left in the third quarter.
Michigan State tied the game, 16-16, on a 32-yard field goal from Coghlin with 9:30 to play before forcing a punt to set up the winning drive that ended with Coghlin’s fourth field goal.
“We're like a really resilient group,” fifth-year senior safety David Dowell said. “I think it’s a testament to everything that we've been through here. Regardless of what happened in the past, or what happens, you can always have an impact on the future. So I think that's kind of the mindset we took, regardless what happened the week before, whether it was a win or a loss. We were going to go full ahead into the next week and just try to get a win. So that's been our mindset regardless of whether we won or whether we won or lost the last game, and we were able to get these two big wins at the end to be bowl eligible.”