Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Kick-return, punt-return arent enough for Spartans

October 1, 2001
MSU senior defensive tackle Josh Shaw, center, is comforted by freshman offensive tackle Sean Poole, left, and junior full back Dawan Moss after the Spartans heartbreaking loss to Northwestern in the final seconds of the game Saturday at Ryan Field in Evanston, Ill. The Spartans were defeated 26-27. —

Evanston, Ill. - Senior wide receiver Herb Haygood had a goal when he came to MSU. Someday he would return a kickoff for a touchdown.

That moment came Saturday. But his satisfaction only lasted 18 seconds.

In those 18 seconds, Wildcat quarterback Zak Kustok nailed a Hail Mary to wide receiver Jon Schweighardt. The ball nicked the hand of MSU senior cornerback DeMario Suggs and as Schweighardt fell to the ground, it landed perfectly in his arms at MSU’s 33-yard line.

One play and two time-outs later, Northwestern kicker David Wasielewski booted the game-winning field goal 47-yards and the clock went blank.

“I just cried,” Haygood said. “Returning a kickoff, that was the goal. But I’d much rather win than return one.”

MSU hadn’t returned a kickoff since Derrick Mason took one 100 yards against LSU in the Independence Bowl on Dec. 29, 1995. But the kickoff return was only one highlight in the special teams’ Jekyll and Hyde performance.

If MSU had won, much credit would have gone to the unit. It was sophomore wide receiver Charles Rogers’ 64-yard punt return that brought MSU into winning position, putting the Spartans up 20 -17 with 4:51 remaining in the game.

And after Northwestern plowed 70 yards in 15 plays for a touchdown, and the game looked finally over, it was the special teams’ heroics that brought MSU back - on Haygood’s 84-yard return.

But when the team didn’t win, the special teams suddenly became a very pinpointable target.

Three missed field goal attempts and two missed extra points add up to 11 points. Just one of those points would have changed the game.

And senior kicker David Schaefer, who kicked all three bad field goals and one extra point, said he knows things must change.

The question is how. Schaefer said he felt like he was hitting the ball solid.

“It felt good,” he said. “I’ll have to look at it on film. The last one, I know I kicked low enough that they could get up and block it. They have some jumpers.”

Special teams also had a scare to start the third quarter, when sophomore linebacker Mike Labinjo and sophomore tailback Tyrell Dortch collided as Labinjo called for a fair catch on the kickoff.

The accident knocked the ball into the air. It fell into the hands of Brandon Evans, who dashed into the end zone. The play wasn’t ruled a touchdown, but the Wildcats still had possession, starting at MSU’s 18-yard line.

The Spartan defense stopped the Wildcat’s after they advanced all the way to MSU’s 1-yard line, and Wasielewski had a folly of his own, missing his 22-yard field goal attempt.

But MSU’s special teams’ problems were far more serious - and the team seems to understand that.

“We have to start taking special teams seriously,” said senior quarterback Ryan Van Dyke, who had a strong game, connecting on 19 of 31 passes for 233 yards. “We have to pay more attention to detail.”

Head coach Bobby Williams said he would pick apart the special teams situation this week - especially the kicking game.

“I know we have got some problems on the kick,” he said. “I’m going to have to step back and evaluate it. They cost us (11) points - three missed field goals and two extra points.”

That could mean bringing sophomore kicker Michael Servis up to a starting position, although in his one attempt Saturday, he too missed his mark, going wide.

“It’s not my decision, it’s the coaches’,” Schaefer said. “But obviously I didn’t perform well today. It just shows that I personally have a lot of work to do. We can’t have 11 missed points. There wouldn’t have been a game.”

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