Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Spartans gain glory over Irish after close game

September 24, 2001
Sophomore wide receiver Charles Rogers dives over Notre Dame cornerback Clifford Jefferson for the winning touchdown in Saturday —

South Bend, Ind. - A range of emotions ran through the MSU football team as it beat Notre Dame 17-10 Saturday - its fifth straight victory over the Fighting Irish.

Throughout the day, those emotions went from low to high, back to low and then high again.

The game began on a somber, but patriotic note with a pregame ceremony that included a sea of fans holding paper American flags in honor of the victims and heroes of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

And once the game got underway, the stadium’s tone turned tense as MSU (2-0) and Notre Dame (0-2) - No. 23 in last week’s Associated Press poll - gridlocked at 10 for much of the second half.

But with 7:51 remaining, the tension quickly gave way to green glory.

On third-and-six, senior quarterback Ryan Van Dyke connected with freshman wide receiver Charles Rogers who broke a tackle at the 41-yard line, exploded toward the goal line and dove over it to break the tie.

The touchdown - Rogers’ first as a Spartan - solidified the breakout game fans had been waiting for. Rogers also recorded 116-yards receiving.

“They came with an all-out blitz,” Rogers said. “I kind of spun out and saw open grass. I was just trying to make sure I wouldn’t get stripped from behind.”

Van Dyke took the majority of the snaps, passing for 147-yards and two touchdowns, even though sophomore quarterback Jeff Smoker started. Head coach Bobby Williams said he will announce today who will start at Northwestern on Saturday.

But the Spartans didn’t have time to celebrate the winning drive because junior guard Paul Harker, who left the game with a shoulder stinger two plays before the touchdown, was rushed to the hospital after collapsing from a seizure.

The atmosphere, which included a Notre Dame record of 80,795 people, turned grim again.

Harker spent the night in St. Joseph Regional Medical Center in South Bend and was discharged Sunday, hospital administrative supervisor Ann Brown said.

Sophomore guard Joe Patrick, replaced Harker at left guard in the two plays before Rogers’ touchdown and said his feelings plunged after the scoring drive.

“We’re on this extreme high because Charles Rogers just broke that big touchdown run,” he said. “Then you come to the sideline and see your fellow teammate sitting there, and they have their hand in his mouth keeping him from swallowing his tongue.

“It’s quite a stir of emotions from one high to a low.”

As an ambulance rushed Harker to the hospital, his teammates took a knee and gathered in prayer.

“I was just praying to myself,” said redshirt freshman tackle William Whittaker, who left the game with an ankle injury. “I just wanted him to be fine.”

After a lengthy delay, MSU shifted its focus back to football. Patrick said sophomore center Brian Ottney gathered the Spartans and told them Harker would want them to finish the game strong.

Two series later, the Irish launched an eight-play 45-yard drive, and after 1:35 they landed at the MSU 17-yard line.

At fourth-and-six, Notre Dame faked its field goal in a final attempt to extend the drive.

But sophomore linebacker Mike Labinjo blasted through its line as the Irish kicker Nicholas Setta took the handoff, and drove Setta back three yards for a loss.

The Spartans were prepared for a Notre Dame fake kick, Williams said.

“Our guys were ready for the fake,” he said. “But we are always yelling from the sideline to check the fake. Whenever a situation like that comes to be, with the other team needing that kind of yardage for the first down, we always make sure our guys are watching for a fake.”

In the next series, MSU went four plays and out, leaving Notre Dame 1:53 to tie the game. But on the first play of its series, junior cornerback Broderick Nelson picked off Irish quarterback Matt LoVecchio’s pass.

Nelson took the interception 25-yards to the Irish seven, and four plays later the game was over.

“This is the best I’ve ever felt,” Van Dyke said. “I’m speechless, I’m so happy we were able to overcome all the penalties and distractions - it showed a lot of character on our team’s part.”

Justin A. Rice can be reached at ricejust@msu.edu.

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