Matt Sokol is ready to step into starting tight end role
Six minutes and 24 seconds separated a nightmare from instant relief for tight end Matt Sokol.
Leading 14-3 over Bowling Green in the third quarter in last Saturday’s season opener, the Spartans offense was driving into Falcon territory.
In the red zone and facing second down, Sokol was lined up as the outside tight end on the left side.
The ball was snapped, Lewerke grabbed it with ease and Sokol began to run his route.
On a scissor route, Sokol cut right near the goal line, and a personnel mishap by Bowling Green led to the two-year letterwinner finding himself wide open in the end zone.
Lewerke threw to an open Sokol, but the 6-foot-6, 250-pound receiver couldn’t hang on, dropping what was a surefire touchdown pass.
“On the field, right there, I was just like, ‘Man, I’ve just been working really, really hard for a couple years for that moment, and I just let that one slip through my hands,’” Sokol said. "But I also knew that it was early on in the game, so I had a lot of football game to play. So, obviously, you can’t dwell on something like that happening. A big part of this game is moving on, being resilient, moving on and continuing to play, so I knew that I had a lot of football left to play and that I had to gather myself and make something happen when I got the opportunity to play next.”
The drop was discouraging for Sokol, but he remained calm.
Lewerke came to Sokol’s aid, keeping him and junior running back LJ Scott, who also suffered his fair share of mistakes in Saturday's game, concentrated on coming away with a victory.
“I was talking with them after their mistakes on the sidelines — just making sure they kept their head in the game, making sure they were still focused,” Lewerke said.
6:24 ticked off the game clock — around 17 real-time minutes — after Sokol’s drop before the native of Rochester, Michigan, got redemption.
On third-and-3 with just under three minutes left in the third quarter, Lewerke rolled right and completed a pass to Sokol near the first-down marker.
Sokol, with a defender hanging onto him, dove into another defender at the goal line and barely broke the plane to extend the Spartans’ lead to 28-3 after the made extra-point attempt.
“It was great to finally see him score that touchdown,” Lewerke said. “He made a great play to get into the end zone; he had to avoid a couple guys. So, I think it was great for him to bounce back and be able to catch it.”
Sokol’s touchdown reception, his first of his MSU career, certainly took more effort than the wide-open, surefire drop earlier in the game.
“You can laugh about it now,” Sokol said. “Obviously, during the game that was not something to laugh about, but I’m glad I can obviously learn from that and just carry that with me the rest of the time I play football. (I’m) not going to let that happen again.”
Before Saturday’s game, Sokol played a minimal role in the offense, playing mainly on special teams in his first two seasons.
After the departures of tight ends Josiah Price and Jamal Lyles, the tight end position was deprived of experience in the offseason, but Sokol stepped in to fill the void left by the talented receivers.
In his first career start as a tight end, Sokol caught three passes for 31 yards, including his 13-yard touchdown reception.
“It was definitely great to have my first start under my belt,” Sokol said. “I took a lot away from that game. ... I definitely made a few mistakes — a couple big ones — but other than that, I also thought I did some things really well, and it just felt really great to have that experience under my belt.”