What a difference a week makes.
Many Spartan fans wrote off the entire season after a crushing and embarrassing loss to perennial Big Ten East doormat, Rutgers. Almost exactly a week later, the Spartans are bringing the Paul Bunyan Trophy back to East Lansing. The final score was 27-24.
The Spartans never trailed and freshman wide receiver Ricky White was a break-out star, earning 196 yards on eight receptions. Spartan quarterback Rocky Lombardi was steady, efficient, and virtually mistake free, completing 17 of 33 passes for a total of 323 yards. Both teams struggled to rush the ball all day, but another true freshman, Jordan Simmons, led the Spartans with 55 yards on 14 carries (good for 3.9 yard per carry).
The first half went far better than any Spartan fan had any right to expect. While MSU did go three-and-out of the first possession of the game, the Spartan defense rose up and also forced a punt after just three Wolverine plays. Then, on the following drive, the Spartans struck first on a 30-yard touchdown pass to true freshman Ricky White. The Wolverines struck back immediately to tie the score at seven apiece on their next drive.
However, the Spartans kept fighting on both sides of the ball. MSU’s defense kept the Wolverines run game mostly in check, and the maize and blue struggled to move the ball. MSU repeatedly probed the Wolverine secondary and were rewarded with a series of either completed passes or Wolverine penalties. In the second quarter, the Spartans scored again on third-and-goal pass to Conner Heyward, which was set up by a 53-yard pass from Rocky Lombardi to Jalen Nailor.
The Wolverines threatened to tie the score late in the second quarter on a trick play from the wildcat formation, but Antjuan Simmons made a heads-up play to tip the ball, which almost lead to an interception, and forced a field goal. On at least two occasions, the MSU play calling was very conservative, opting for run plays on third-and-long and as the clock ran out in the first half, but the Spartans took a 14-10 lead into half time, despite trailing in total yards (233 to 174) and time of possession (12:25 to 17:35).
In the second half, MSU was able to maintain momentum, stringing together four consecutive drives that resulted in two made field goals, one field goal miss, and a late touchdown dagger on a screen pass to Connor Heyward to put the Spartans up 27-17 with just under five minutes to play.
The Wolverines were not quite done yet, however, as Michigan marched down the field and scored to cut the lead to just three points. But, MSU’s defense forced the Wolverines to take far too much time, and after a failed on-side kick, the Spartans just needed to pick up one first down to end the game and eliminate the possibility of any late game heroics that the series is known for.
But, Rocky Lombardi, behind the much maligned Spartan offensive line, surged forward on a fourth-and-two sneak to kill the clock for good. Paul Bunyan is coming home.
Stay tuned for much more coverage of the Spartan’s epic win, here on The Only Colors.