Evanston, Ill. - It was a game that will be remembered as an instant classic.
In MSUs 27-26 loss to Northwestern on Saturday, the lead changed three times in the final 28 seconds, taking the Spartans on the most frantic ride many players said theyd ever ridden.
Emotions went both ways, sophomore wide receiver Charles Rogers said. We had it at one point, they had it at one point, then we had it again, but they ended with it.
You really cant say how you were feeling because one thing happened than another thing happened - it was only for a spare moment.
The Wildcats scored with 32 seconds left, going up 24-20 and leaving MSU seemingly hopeless. But Spartan senior wide receiver Herb Haygood returned the ensuing kick-off 84-yards for a touchdown. Not a single defender touched him.
His only mistake was leaving 18 seconds on the clock.
In those seconds, Northwestern quarterback Zak Kustok threw a Hail Mary pass to set up a 47-yard game winning field goal as time expired to win by one, 27-26.
That one-point margin of loss was a fluke in itself; after Haygoods return, MSU received an excessive celebration penalty. That forced senior kicker David Schaefer to kick the extra point from the 35-yard line. And it was blocked.
I dont think I kicked it necessarily low, said Schaefer, who also missed field goals from 46, 40 and 34 yards. Obviously I kicked it low enough where they got up and were able to block it.
When the ball was back in Kustoks hands, Northwestern stood 87 yards from the end zone with 14 seconds left.
He covered more than half that distance with a 54-yard bomb that was tipped before it found its way into the hands of sliding wide receiver Jon Schweighardt.
The play setup the game-winning field goal. And senior cornerback DeMario Suggs said it was the result of a complacent MSU secondary.
When we got up, we looked at the clock, and there was 14 seconds left, he said. We really kind of, I believe, thought we had it in the bag.
And when the team realized it didnt, the heartbreak set in.
I was hurt big time, Suggs said. Were trying to do something big for this team and win the Big Ten championship, but my dreams did not go away with that kick.
Perhaps the most ironic thing Saturday was that Northwestern won the way MSU lost - by kicking a field goal.
The game included seven missed kicks, and Schaefer was the biggest offender, misfiring three field goals and an extra point. Sophomore kicker Michael Servis also shanked an extra-point attempt.
Theres nothing you can really do, Schaefer said. Its one of those situations where youre on your own. Youre not on the offense, youre not on the defense, youre an individual anyway - theres nothing anyone can say to ease the pain.
Despite pitfalls in the kicking game that made Spartan special teams not so special - returns kept MSU afloat. Before Haygoods return, sophomore wide receiver Charles Rogers gave MSU a 20-17 lead with 4:42 left when he returned a punt 64 yards.
I thought we had some good things going with our special teams, although our special teams cost us several points today, MSU head coach Bobby Williams said.
Kick-returns werent the only thing that kept MSU in the game.
When MSU trailed 17-7 a minute before halftime, redshirt freshman quarterback Damon Dowdell entered the game on fourth-and-two at Northwesterns 20-yard line.
He ran consecutive quarterback keepers, the second for a 3-yard touchdown that cut Northwesterns lead to 17-14.
MSUs only other offensive touchdown came on its first possession. Junior running back T.J. Duckett carried the ball five times in a row in 1:31. His last was a 3-yard stroll into the end zone.
Duckett finished with 104 yards on 22 carries.
This was the craziest game Ive ever seen played in anything, Duckett said. All I can say is its unbelievable. But one loss doesnt make the season.
Theres a long, long, long road left. You take from what ever happened here and learn from it and just move on.
Justin A. Rice can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org