Thursday, February 29, 2024

Takeaways lead to scores

Defense turns turnovers into 23 points in loss

November 18, 2002
Senior cornerback Cedric Henry intercepts the ball meant for Purdue wide receiver John Standeford Saturday at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans intercepted the ball four times from Purdue, but ended up losing 45-42. —

MSU has been on the wrong end of many big plays this season, but Saturday the defense retaliated with game-breaking plays of its own.

Although Purdue scored 45 points and gained 555 yards of total offense, the Spartans forced a season-high five turnovers - four interceptions and a fumble - which led to 23 of the team's 42 points.

On a day that recognized the last game at Spartan Stadium for the senior class, it was a day of firsts for many of the Spartan defenders in MSU's 45-42 loss to the Boilermakers.

On Purdue's first drive, freshman free safety Eric Smith jarred the ball loose from Boilermaker tailback Joey Harris and junior linebacker Mike Labinjo recovered the fumble, which led to sophomore place-kicker Dave Rayner's 49-yard field goal, giving the Spartans a 3-0 lead.

With Purdue leading 7-3 and in MSU territory freshman cornerback Ashton Watson, who was in zone coverage, hauled in the first interception of his career and returned it 35 yards to midfield.

"It wasn't even my zone but I just broke on the ball," Watson said. "I was just at the right place at the right time. That was big time for me."

The interception was the first by a cornerback all season and led to a 14-yard touchdown by freshman tailback David Richard and a 10-3 lead for MSU.

"It boosts the entire team when you get turnovers," MSU junior offensive lineman Joe Tate said. "It's new life. I think it turns the tide in our favor."

From that point, it was the seniors that began to shine.

In the second quarter, sixth-year senior cornerback DeMario Suggs anticipated a wide receiver bubble screen and returned his first career interception 44 yards for a touchdown, giving the Spartans a 17-7 advantage.

"I knew the play was coming," Suggs said. "They had run it a couple of times before and I was expecting it. Coach called my number for a blitz. I read the quarterback and after his third step, I timed my jump and the ball landed in my hands.

"It was kind of a early Christmas present for me."

Not to be outdone by his senior counterpart, strong safety Thomas Wright got involved in the turnover party in the fourth quarter.

In man coverage, Wright picked off a pass and raced 57 yards for a touchdown - the first score of his career. The interception gave MSU a 36-31 lead with 14:48 remaining in the game.

"Once you start rolling like that plays like that are bound to happen," Wright said. "As far as the touchdown, I've been waiting for one of those for a long time. I finally got one."

Wright's touchdown marked the first time since Oct. 16, 1999 against Purdue that the Spartans returned two interceptions for touchdowns.

On the Boilermakers' next possession, senior cornerback Cedric Henry, who has been battling a groin injury all season, made the third interception for the Spartans' senior class.

Junior defensive lineman Kyle Rasmussen said it was good to see the seniors make big plays in their last home game.

"It's a big momentum builder," he said. "It gets the fans going and it gets everyone on the team going.

"We've got a good senior group. It's going to be tough to see them go."

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