Sunday, April 14, 2024

Return secures victory

October 1, 2002
Junior wide receiver Ziehl Kavanaght (82) pushes away a Northwestern player scoring an 88-yard touchdown on a punt return during the game against Northwestern on Saturday in Spartan Stadium. —

The biggest play of Saturday’s game came from the most unlikely of places, the Spartans’ special teams.

With a little more than a minute to play in the third quarter and MSU leading by a score of 20-17, junior wide receiver Ziehl Kavanaght broke the game open with a 88-yard punt return for a touchdown.

“When Ziehl ran that ball back the game was close,” junior quarterback Jeff Smoker said. “It still could have went either way at that point.

“It swung the momentum towards us.”

With momentum on their side, the Spartans (3-2 overall, 1-0 Big Ten) rattled off 12 fourth-quarter points and never looked back en route to a 39-24 victory against Northwestern (2-3, 0-1).

After Kavanaght’s heroics, the Wildcats only managed to post a 48-yard touchdown pass in garbage time.

Junior wide receiver Charles Rogers is used to making the big play for MSU. But he said it was good to see a teammate take charge.

“We needed a play and somebody else stepped up,” he said. “We needed that.”

Kavanaght said the play was simple, adding that Spartan head coach Bobby Williams just called for a middle return.

“I saw the middle was open, then all of a sudden the left side was open, so I just took it,” he said. “I was just thinking about running as fast as I could.”

Kavanaght returned four punts for 96 yards and one touchdown. But the numbers fail to tell the whole story.

“We had a side return to the left that we broke out and had a penalty. We had a side return to the right that we broke out and had a penalty. And we popped one up the middle,” Williams said. “I saw he was gone, but I was looking back to see if they were going to throw a flag.”

On the previous two returns, the 5-foot-11, 182-pound Kavanaght had 30-plus-yard gains.

“Guys were talking on the sideline, but everyone was just telling me to stay positive,” Kavanaght said.

Stay positive he did, and as a result he was mobbed by teammates after his score.

“I was kind of scared for a little bit,” he said with a laugh. “With everybody pilled up on me I couldn’t breathe. But it was okay.”

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