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55-7 victory over Tigers captures bowl invitation

December 3, 2001
Senior defensive end Nick Myers shakes the hands of fans as he leaves Spartan Stadium after his last home game.

Lansing - The MSU football team accepted an invitation on Sunday to play Fresno State on Dec. 31 in the second-ever Silicon Valley Classic in San Jose, Calif.

That agreement came a day after the Spartans blew out Missouri 55-7 at Spartan Stadium in its fourth and final chance to become bowl eligible.

The team, however, waited for bowl officials to work out the logistics before officially accepting the invitation Sunday at its annual awards banquet, “Football Bust,” held at the Holiday Inn South-Convention Center, 6820 S. Cedar St.

MSU head coach Bobby Williams said the team will take time off before it starts preparing for the bowl.

“I know these guys are going to step it up,” Williams said at the banquet. “We’re going to take a little time off, board that plane, head out West and play a heck of a ball game.”

But a trip to California isn’t all fun in the sun as the Spartans have to face a tough Bulldog (11-2) team, defensive secondary coach Troy Douglas said.

“They have a true talented option quarterback,” Douglas said. “They are very good up front, they have a good tight end, tremendous receivers that are very fast.

“If anyone wants to volunteer to help, we’re taking applications.”

As excited as MSU is about going out West, it should have clinched bowl eligibility three weeks ago, sophomore linebacker Mike Labinjo said.

“To tell you the truth, this really should have been decided three weeks ago,” Labinjo said after the Spartan victory.

“No one wanted it to come down to the last game of the season because anything can happen.”

But MSU unleashed aggression built up from those three losses against Missouri, sophomore wide receiver Charles Rogers said.

“We took out our frustration on Missouri,” said Rogers, who had seven grabs for 168 yards and two touchdowns. “For three weeks, we haven’t really had our heads down, but we’ve been disgusted with ourselves.

“It was time to let our frustration go and put it out on somebody, and we put in out on Missouri.”

On Saturday, Rogers tied former Spartan Plaxico Burress for the most touchdown receptions in a season by a Spartan with 12.

He also surpassed Burress as MSU’s single-season receiving yards leader with 1,200.

MSU wasn’t trying to lobby bowl officials with those offensive numbers, it was just trying to regain its confidence, Williams said.

“The only statement that we wanted to make is that our team understands that we can play football,” Williams said. “We’re not trying to impress anyone on the outside.

“This is a statement we wanted to make for our team.”

But MSU was impressive as it netted 639 total yards while holding the Tigers to 241. And the Spartans scored quick - seven of their nine scoring drives were under two minutes.

The offense was going so well for MSU, freshman quarterback Damon Dowdell took over for sophomore Jeff Smoker as the signal caller with 7:35 left in the third quarter.

Before Dowdell entered the game, Smoker completed 14-of-17 passes for 317 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

Another Spartan who had a great day was junior tailback T.J. Duckett. Duckett picked up 149 yards with three touchdowns.

That performance moved him past his brother Tico Duckett on MSU’s list of all-time rushing touchdown leaders. Duckett is now in sixth place with 27.

“I mess with him a little bit here and there about it,” Duckett said. “It’s definitely a good feeling.”

Duckett said he wants to return for his senior season so he can climb even higher on that list.

“I still have a lot of time left,” Duckett said. “That’s not even an option. I’m not even thinking about that.”

The win also was the final home game for 17 Spartan seniors.

“I didn’t want to leave the field,” said senior linebacker Josh Thornhill, who was named the team’s most valuable player at the banquet.

“I looked for my dad and I saw the look on his face and he couldn’t believe it was ending. It was a look of pride... he didn’t say a lot, it was in his face.”

Justin A. Rice, a State News football reporter, can be reached at ricejust@msu.edu

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