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Michigan State bowl eligible after blowout win over Maryland

The Spartans earned their sixth win of the season, beating Maryland 24-3 in a game that was anything but normal.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

With LJ Scott sidelined for the game and the Michigan State Spartans passing for fewer than 100 yards, a win would seem unlikely. However, the Spartans handled the Maryland Terrapins, winning 24-3.

Nothing about the game Saturday in College Park was ordinary. But the win was Michigan State’s sixth of the season, making them bowl eligible for the second year in a row.

After the MSU defense forced a three-and-out on the first drive of the game, Brian Lewerke took the field for the first time since midway through the Michigan game two weeks earlier. The quarterback was helped by the return of receiver Cody White, who made a big catch on that first drive, and a fourth down conversion.

The opening offensive drive was capped off by an 18-yards Connor Heyward touchdown run. Heyward would become the first MSU running back to go over 100 yards in a game.

A field goal on the following drive, late in the first quarter, would be all the points the Spartans would get for the remainder of the half. Maryland responded with only one field goal of their own before sending the game to the break at 10-3. Lewerke finished the half 7-12 with 52 yards, but struggled with accuracy even on shorter passes.

The junior quarterback returned to the field to start the second half, completing his first two passes of the third quarter. After trading punts to open the half, Lewerke and the offense moved the ball 69-yards for a touchdown. But, because the game was as unusual as it was, not even that came without a twist.

On first and goal at the six, Heyward ran for five yards before fumbling the ball into the end zone. Fullback Max Rosenthal jumped on the loose ball for a touchdown.

The Michigan State defense played a tremendous game, but never was it more evident or important than in the third quarter. Following an eight-yard punt by backup punter Bryce Baringer, Maryland had an opportunity to get back into the game with the wind at its back. But on third down, linebacker Joe Bachie forced and recovered a fumble.

The defense wasn’t done yet. Two plays later they were back on the field after Lewerke threw well short of his intended receiver and was intercepted. But another defensive stand got the ball back for the Spartans and would lead to the strangest series of events from the entire game.

When the offense took the field, it was redshirt freshman Rocky Lombardi in at quarterback. After an incompletion on first down, Lombardi’s second passing attempt was tipped at the line of scrimmage and intercepted by Maryland’s Byron Cowart. The defensive lineman ran for 12 yards before Darrell Stewart Jr. caught him from behind and knocked the ball loose. The fumble rolled into the end zone and was recovered by tight end Matt Dotson. The strange play somehow gave MSU four more yards than they started with and a first down.

On the very next play, Heyward flew threw the middle of the Maryland defense, going 80 yards for a touchdown.

Heyward had the best game of his young career. The sophomore finished with 157 yards and two touchdowns. Even his fumble turned into a touchdown for Michigan State.

The Spartans defense would take the game the rest of the way, never allowing the Terrapins a chance of getting back into things. Maryland finished with just 100 yards of total offense, 74 through the air and only 26 rushing. Last week that same Maryland team went for over 700 yards against Illinois. Kenny Willekes recorded two sacks

After the interception for a first down, Lombardi wouldn’t attempt another pass, despite finishing the game under center. Lewerke, who Mark Dantonio selected as the starter Friday night, seems to still have his coach’s confidence. Following the game, Dantonio said Lewerke is still the starter and that the team was just looking to get Lombardi more experience.

That next start would come against Ohio State in East Lansing. The Buckeyes narrowly beat Nebraska at home in a game that saw their star quarterback Dwayne Haskins briefly struggle with an injury.