For just the second time all season, Spartan fans witnessed a game decided in the fourth quarter. And just as before, it was a backup quarterback who put MSU down.
The game saw seven lead changes and eight turnovers as Purdue (5-6 overall, 3-4 Big Ten) topped the Spartans (4-7, 2-5) 45-42.
The Spartans also fell to Notre Dame, 21-17, in the final minutes of their Sept. 28 matchup. The loss to Purdue officially ends MSU's chances for a bowl bid and assures the Spartans of a losing season.
"It was a wild, roller coaster game," senior cornerback DeMario Suggs said. "We'd make plays, they'd make plays, we'd make plays and they'd make plays. It just came down to who made the biggest play last."
Unfortunately for MSU, it was the Boilermakers who made the last big play.
Clinging to a 42-37 lead with just more than three minutes to play, the Spartans needed one more stop. Purdue was facing a fourth-and-eight on the MSU 40-yard line, and Boilermaker starting quarterback Brandon Kirsch had just left the game injured.
But in stepped Kyle Orton, who had not thrown a pass all game. MSU called a blitz, but it failed to reach Orton before he unleashed a 40-yard bomb. The touchdown catch by John Standeford was his second of the game and proved to be the game winner.
The Spartans' ensuing drive faltered and MSU turned the ball over on downs. With no timeouts remaining, the Spartans couldn't stop Purdue from simply running out the clock.
"It's disappointing, but that's how this year went," junior wide receiver Charles Rogers said. "It's been a rough year. But for our team to go out there and play the way we played, I'm proud of them."
Rogers certainly did his part with eight receptions for 161 yards and two touchdowns. He also took a reverse for 14 yards. But as a whole, the Spartan attack only gained 320 yards of total offense.
In fact, 13 of MSU's points came from its defense. The first seven came as Suggs picked off a Kirsch pass intended for a wide receiver screen and ran it back 44 yards, giving the Spartans a 17-7 lead midway through the second quarter. The last six also came on an interception returned for a touchdown, a 57-yarder by senior strong safety Thomas Wright which gave MSU a 36-31 lead early in the fourth quarter.
The touchdowns were the first as collegians for both Wright and Suggs. All told, the Green and White snagged four Kirsch passes.
Wright admitted the senior class would have enjoyed a win in its last performance at Spartan Stadium. But considering every Spartan played hard, he said he's satisfied.
"There wasn't one position today where you could say they didn't come to play," Wright said. "Everybody did their part."
After the game was finished, not one senior hung his head. And that's exactly what interim head coach Morris Watts wanted to see.
"I did feel that everyone could leave that locker room with their heads up because they played hard for four quarters," he said. "I'm happy with the effort, and I told the young men that."
Many of the Spartans were just happy to give the fans a good show. But just as the fans did, the Spartans also knew they were just one or two plays away from claiming victory.
After a 65-yard touchdown by Rogers, after which he threw the ball to a fan, the Spartans were tagged with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Combined with a slip from sophomore place-kicker Dave Rayner, the penalty cost MSU the extra point.
As a result, the Spartans trailed 31-30 and were forced to attempt two two-point conversions on later TDs. Both times MSU converted only to watch penalties keep more points off the board.
Its postseason dreams may be finished, but junior linebacker Monquiz Wedlow said the Spartans will definitely have fight left in them against Penn State (8-3, 4-3) to wrap up the season. He said the seniors deserved a win against Purdue.
"You play for the seniors the way you want the underclassmen to play for you when you're a senior," Wedlow said. "We've got one more with them and we're going to fight to the end."