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MSU beats Fresno State in record-setting Silicon Valley Football Classic

December 31, 2001
MSU head coach Bobby Williams celebrates with freshman quarterback Aaron Alexander on Monday after a 44-35 win over Fresno State in the Silicon Valley Football Classic. The win in San Jose, Calif., improves Williams’ bowl record to 2-0. —

San Jose, Calif. - An old-fashioned Western shootout was expected and that’s just what MSU got in a 44-35 victory Monday over No. 20 Fresno State in the Silicon Valley Football Classic.

About 30,456 fans were on hand at San Jose State’s Spartan Stadium on New Year’s Eve to witness a high-octane, record-setting effort by the Big Ten and Western Athletic Conference participants.

“It was a very exciting game for the fans and everyone involved,” said MSU head coach Bobby Williams, who picked up his second bowl win since taking the team’s helm in December 1999. “We had some solid performances today from both sides of the football.

“I wasn’t going to shake anyone’s hand (from across the field) until after the final play. That’s just the kind of game it was.”

A total of 1,176 yards were gained in the contest, with receivers sophomore Charles Rogers of MSU and Rodney Wright of Fresno State combining for an eye-popping 569 receiving yards.

Rogers set a single-game school record with 10 receptions for 270 yards and two touchdowns while Wright tallied 299 yards receiving, a Silicon Valley all-time record.

Rogers credited sophomore quarterback Jeff Smoker for giving him the opportunity to rack up record-setting numbers.

Smoker completed 22-of-32 passes for three touchdowns in the win.

“When you have a guy like Smoker on your side, days like this just happen,” said Rogers, who was awarded the game’s Offensive MVP. “Jeff and I have developed a close relationship this year and it has helped produce big numbers on the field.”

Junior running back T.J. Duckett - who is rumored to be leaving for the NFL next year - gave the Spartans another dimension, with 184 yards rushing and two touchdowns on the day.

Duckett said after the game that he hasn’t decided what his future plans are.

But Williams said he hopes Duckett will return for a senior season.

“As a coach I want him to stay,” Williams said. “He still has a lot to work on to develop into a pro kind of player and put himself into a good situation.

“But the decision is entirely up to him and his family.”

Despite a formidable dose of MSU firepower on the ground and in the air, it wasn’t enough to put away the Bulldogs for most of the game.

Fresno State’s highly acclaimed quarterback David Carr didn’t waste any time showcasing his skills, connecting with tight end Stephen Spach for a five-yard touchdown pass 59 seconds into the game.

Carr would complete three more touchdown passes and 526 more yards in the next 59 minutes of play - enough effort to get his team within two, 37-35, at the six-minute mark of the fourth quarter.

Despite a strong showing offensively, it was MSU’s ability to make big plays that proved to be the difference, Carr said.

“I thought that we moved the ball real well,” he said. “But we just weren’t able to score enough.”

With both teams showcasing poised quarterbacks and speedy receivers, the game wasn’t decided until the final two minutes, keeping the largely Fresno State crowd on edge for the entire game.

After a 15-yard touchdown pass from Carr to running back Paris Gaines at the 6:04 mark of the fourth, MSU countered with some unexpected magic. On the next series, senior tight end Ivory McCoy, who caught only three receptions in the regular season, grabbed a 5-yard pass in the end zone at the two-minute mark for the game’s winning score.

McCoy, who sat out the first three games of the year due to injury, said he was pleased to have an opportunity to help the Spartans earn their second bowl victory in three years.

“I just gave it my all out there and worked tremendously hard to get open,” McCoy said. “This is the perfect way to finish my career - a winner.”

From a defensive standpoint, MSU was able to contain Fresno State when it needed to, Williams said.

The Spartans had two of its strongest performances from senior defensive end Nick Myers and sophomore linebacker Monquiz Wedlow.

Myers earned the game’s Defensive MVP for his two tackles for loss and a key sack in the game. He sacked Carr for a 7-yard loss on second down and 20 early in the fourth quarter while MSU had a 37-28 lead.

Wedlow gave MSU an early boost at the 5:54 mark of the first quarter after recovering a fumble in the end zone to give the Spartans their first lead, 14-7.

A concern going into the game was MSU’s focus since the team had about a month to prepare. But senior linebacker Josh Thornhill said the Spartans were able to stay poised because of improved leadership and planning.

“We had everything together today,” Thornhill said. “With all the setbacks and injuries we have had this year, it’s nice to finish this year on a winning note. This team peaked at the right time and its going to help get this program off to a good start in 2002.”

In season-ending fashion, injury-plagued senior quarterback Ryan Van Dyke took the final snap of the game with 29 seconds remaining. The game marked his first action since Oct. 20, when he fractured his jaw against Minnesota.

During a raucous post-game trophy celebration, the entire team stayed on the field to sing the “Michigan State Fight Song” along with the 300-member Spartan Marching band. MSU men’s basketball head coach Tom Izzo and staff was on hand to congratulate the team on the sidelines.

The basketball team was in California for their game against Stanford on Saturday. The Spartans lost, 75-64.

The New Year’s Eve bowl marked the first meeting of MSU and Fresno State, but it may not be the last. Bulldogs head coach Pat Hill said he MSU athletics director Clarence Underwood discussed the possibility of the two teams becoming regular season competitors.

Fresno State would travel to East Lansing one year, and MSU would visit California in another.

MSU finishes the season at 7-5 overall, which marks Williams’ first winning season. His overall record as head coach stands at 13-11.

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