Friday, April 19, 2024

Spartans lose, look forward to Big Ten season

September 23, 2002
Notre Dame senior wide receiver Amaz Battle takes the ball down the field during the final moments of the first quarter. Senior cornerback Cedric Henry follows close behind him during MSU's 21-17 loss to Notre Dame. —

For the second consecutive week, the Spartans watched the opposing team triumphantly celebrate on their home field.

This week it was the last-minute heroics of No. 10 Notre Dame, which beat MSU 21-17, sending the Spartans (2-2) into Big Ten play on a two-game losing streak.

Saturday’s game was the fourth-consecutive contest between the Spartans and the Fighting Irish (4-0) in which a big fourth-quarter play decided the winner. In the last three matchups, MSU came away with the win after heroic fourth-quarter touchdowns.

This time, the tables were turned.

“It’s terrible to lose anytime,” senior offensive guard Paul Harker said. “It was kind of ironic that we were beaten by Notre Dame in the last seconds of the game - kind of similar to how we beat them two years ago.

“It was just tough.”

For a moment, it seemed junior wide receiver Charles Rogers would be the hero for the second year in a row. Last season, Rogers caught a short pass, broke a tackle and sprinted 47 yards for the game-winning score.

This year, he made a phenomenal 21-yard touchdown grab in the back of the end zone to give MSU its first lead, 17-14, with 1:45 remaining in the game.

Rogers had seven catches for 175 yards and two touchdowns.

But this time, it was Notre Dame that came up with the last big play - a 60-yard completion just 30 seconds later to Irish wide receiver Arnaz Battle from backup quarterback Pat Dillingham - giving Notre Dame the shocking win and ending its five-game losing streak to the Spartans.

That play silenced most of the season-high 75,182 spectators who were going wild minutes before.

“It hurt,” senior cornerback DeMario Suggs said. “This is a loss that we’re going to swallow and we’re going to swallow it hard. We have to get ready for the Big Ten. We still have a chance to be Big Ten champs.”

Battle’s touchdown capped a fourth quarter in which the teams combined for 21 points.

Early on, however, it was all Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish took charge on the game’s first drive with a 10-play, 80-yard drive to take a 7-0 lead.

Late in the second quarter, Notre Dame safety Gerome Sapp intercepted a tipped ball and returned it 13 yards to MSU’s 28-yard line.

The Irish capitalized on a 15-yard touchdown pass from starting quarterback Carlyle Holiday to wide receiver Maurice Stovall to make the score 14-3 going into halftime.

With the Big Ten play starting next week, head coach Bobby Williams said he needs to get his team to play inspired football for four quarters. MSU has not been impressive in the first half of the last three games.

“Actually, it has been every game this season that we’ve had to go in at halftime and try to light a fire under these guys,” he said. “We’re a tentative football team at the beginning of the game for some reason.”

The defenses took control as both teams went scoreless in the third quarter.

In the fourth quarter, with the aid of two penalties totaling 20 yards, the Spartans scored their first touchdown of the game to make it 14-10. On first-and-17, Smoker found Rogers streaking through the Notre Dame secondary for a 38-yard touchdown.

Smoker finished 19-for-34 with 281 passing yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Now, the Spartans shift their attention to Northwestern (2-2). The game is at 1:05 p.m. Saturday at Spartan Stadium.

“We expected to go 4-0 and, obviously, we didn’t accomplish that,” sophomore tight end Eric Knott said. “It’s a new season. The Big Ten season is coming up so we have to start all over.”

Romando J. Dixson can be reached at dixsonro@msu.edu.

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