Brian Lewerke, Chris Frey, Felton Davis and Joe Bachie discuss Spartans' first defeat in Big Ten play. Matt Charboneau
Evanston, Ill. — Brian Lewerke put up huge numbers on Saturday, record-setting even.
But Michigan State’s sophomore quarterback was thinking about the plays he just missed, the ones that might have made the difference as Northwestern knocked off No. 16 Michigan State, 39-31, in triple overtime at Ryan Field.
“I think that’s the game right there,” Lewerke said. “I missed at least two posts and a fade route near the end. Obviously, we need to hit those plays and if you do you don’t go to overtime.”
There were plenty of missed opportunities for Lewerke on Saturday, but he nearly overcame it all as he led a tying touchdown drive in the final minutes of regulation and nearly willed the offense to the overtime victory.
Along the way, he set single-game program records for completions (39), passing yards (445) and total yards (475). His passing yardage numbers surpassed the 400 yards Bill Burke threw for against Michigan in 1999 while the completion mark bettered the 35 completions Jeff Smoker had against Ohio State in 2003. Connor Cook held the previous record in total yards, gaining 416 against Indiana in 2015.
“He’s an outstanding player, an outstanding quarterback,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “He made plays with his feet today, as well. He’s a gamer. He doesn’t get too up or too down. He’s very confident on the field. He makes plays. Wish we had that last one back, but some of that is experience, too. He’s a young player so there’s gonna be some mistakes made. You try to make plays.”
The early misses were hard to forecast as Lewerke hit Cody White in stride for a 60-yard gain on the opening drive of the game, one that ended with the first of four touchdown passes for Lewerke, a career high.
But later in the second quarter, he missed Darrell Stewart and Felton Davis on post patterns where his receivers had gotten behind the defense. Late in the game, Lewerke overthrew Cam Chambers as he streaked into the end zone.
However, there were plenty of throws into tight coverage, the final touchdown pass of regulation to Davis was one of those as Davis snatched the ball out of the air as he tumbled out of bounds. He also had a 45-yard pass to White on third-and-18 in the fourth quarter.
“I think I did a good job on the first drive, hitting Cody for that long play,” Lewerke said. “For some reason, it’s harder for me to hit the wide-open ones than it is to hit the covered ones, I guess.”
It was the final play, however, that will stick with Lewerke.
In the third overtime with Northwestern ahead by eight, the Spartans faced second-and-10 from the 25 when Lewerke had the ball knocked from his hands. He scooped it up, rolled to his left and tried to throw across the field to tight end Matt Sokol in the end zone. It was intercepted by Northwestern’s Nate Hall to end the game.
“I saw Sokol running on the right side and it looked like he had a couple steps on the guy and it just takes a bigger arm to make that throw,” Lewerke said. “Obviously, I probably shouldn’t throw it in that situation.”