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Dortch gets 1st career touchdown

October 13, 2003

Urbana-Champaign, Ill. - The trip was three-and-a-half years in the making.

And when junior running back Tyrell Dortch reached the end zone for his first career touchdown, that wasn't enough. So he decided to run it in one more time.

"It's a relief," Dortch said. "I worked hard all week long. It was kind of frustrating down there on the goal line three straight times, but it felt good to get in the end zone.

"I didn't really think about it until I got to the sideline and it came to me."

After safety Eric Smith intercepted a second-quarter pass and returned it to the 2-yard line, Dortch appeared to score on the ensuing down. But one official called him down outside the end zone.

So, after a fumbled snap and a failed quarterback sneak, Dortch finally scored the touchdown on a 1-yard fourth-down run.

"That's special," head coach John L. Smith said. "But the thing we can't do is have to score it three times to score seven points. That's not a neat deal, so we'll have to correct that. And we had two called back."

Dortch also ran for a 4-yard touchdown in the third quarter after his 19-yard run off the right side set up the scoring opportunity. After the game, Dortch was still miffed by the first-down call.

"I thought I was in there," Dortch said. "Actually, the judge in front of me was saying touchdown, but the judge from the right side came down and got me on the 1-yard line."

Although his many injuries in the past four seasons have lingered, the Hoboken, N.J., native helped erase some of the ghosts from his past by scoring twice, despite only rushing for 35 yards, in MSU's blowout 49-14 win over Illinois (1-6 overall, 0-3 Big Ten).

"It felt great," senior quarterback Jeff Smoker said. "Tyrell's a great kid and I'm just happy to see him back on the field."

After entering MSU (6-1, 3-0) with all of the expectations that come with being a consensus high school All-American, his career at MSU has gone differently than anyone expected.

He played behind T.J. Duckett and Little John Flowers for the first year and a half he was at MSU, never starting and rushing for only 267 yards on 45 carries.

So, when starting cornerbacks Jason Harmon and DeMario Suggs both incurred season-ending ankle injuries in the same week, he was expendable for the offense and moved to the defensive backfield as a replacement.

But only three games into his defensive career, Dortch suffered a gruesome career-threatening break to his right leg that left him out of football for the remainder of that season and 2002.

Despite starting two games and intercepting a pass in his defensive stint, Dortch returned to the offense when he began playing again during spring practice. He earned the starting spot in fall practice, but only two games into the season, his injury problems started again, and he was replaced by Jaren Hayes.

He returned to play against Notre Dame, only to be injured again. He missed the Spartans last two games before returning to play against Illinois.

At this point, the junior still isn't at 100 percent, and he might not be any time soon with the lingering ankle pain. But the Spartans just hope that Dortch can be a factor in their run at a Big Ten title for now.

"My leg, some days it feels good, but when it gets cold, it gets a little flabby," Dortch said. "I am just grateful to keep on coming back and going at it."

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