There are football games, there are great football games, and then there is what happened Saturday night.
“The game is over and then that happened,” fifth-year senior quarterback Connor Cook said.
The stomachs of Spartan fans went through a wave of emotions, together, but what will unite them forevermore is the feeling which ensued. It was 10 seconds of pure irony. It summed up the season thus far — special teams, injury and destiny.
The score is 23-21, U-M, and the Wolverine fans in Michigan Stadium are ready to explode. There are press box rumors which say the U-M police are going to allow a storming of the field. The Wolverines are in punt formation and ready to squander the Spartans’ chances with the Aussie-style punting by graduate transfer punter Blake O’Neill.
“[O’Neill] dropped the ball, I don’t know if they would have blocked, I don’t think (we) would have blocked it,” MSU head coach Mark Dantonio said.
Eight Spartans are seven yards or less away, all sprinting to the ball with their ears pinned back.
“I just blitzed off the edge and I hit the punter as he was fumbling it, Matt Morrissey and I, and he fumbled it and I was on the ground and I just saw Jalen taking off,” freshman safety Grayson Miller said.
Seven seconds left
Sophomore defensive back Jalen Watts-Jackson is in the right place at the right time. As Miller and redshirt-freshman safety Matt Morrissey tackle O’Neill, the ball flings directly into the hands of Watts-Jackson who begins his horse race from the U-M 38-yard line.
“I was hoping that one of our guys was going to get tackled, you know, soon as we could kick a field goal with the clock stopped,” Cook said. “Then he just kept running and running and running.”
Down to zero
Watts-Jackson gets a key block by junior defensive back Jermaine Edmondson, cuts to his right, and is tackled into the endzone as time expires. The score is now 27-23, MSU, and the Spartans are now 7-0.
“And then everyone rushed the field and honestly this felt like a dream,” Cook said.
“I was running over to our student section, our parent section, to go celebrate with my family and I jumped up there and it honestly, I’ve never felt anything like that. It honestly just felt like I was in a dream like completely crazy.”
It is with unparalleled irony that the Spartans won Saturday’s miraculous game. A punt recovery play won the game in a season where special teams has troubled the MSU team, and the return touchdown by Watts-Jackson was just as telling, as he went down with a season-ending hip break after being tackled into the endzone — adding another season-ending injury for the Spartans. It has just been a season — an era — of destiny.
“If we lost, we lost, but I knew that we played as hard as we could and we left it on the field,” Dantonio said. “I want to congratulate Michigan, they’re a good football team, great football team.”
Victory for MSU
“ ... all of a sudden life gets turned upside down,” Dantonio said.
After that game, one has to wonder what is next for the Spartans. If the team hopes to ride the momentum of this win to their ultimate goals they will have to get better.
“A win over Michigan for how hyped up they were, coming into the game for how well they were playing, how they shut out three consecutive teams. ... A win in general would (have given) us momentum, but for it to end like this I think it will really ignite us,” Cook said. “It just brings you closer together (and) we’re already a tight-knit group.”
The special teams are a huge concern going forward, but a win unlike any other over a highly ranked and hyped rival team should give MSU a large confidence boost.
“If we would have came in here with a loss I would’ve said ‘hey we’ve got to play better on special teams,’” Dantonio said. “Because (Jabrill) Peppers was outstanding, he made plays, he changed the field position in the game.
“We said we had to come up with plus one big play on special teams, so we just waited until there was no time on the clock to get it.”
The Spartans’ next three games are against Indiana (4-3 overall, 0-3 Big Ten) at home, at Nebraska (3-4 overall, 1-2 Big Ten) and against Maryland (2-4 overall, 0-2 Big Ten) at home.
“We’re 7-0, that’s the most important thing in all of this,” Dantonio said. “We advance (to) 3-0 in the Big Ten conference and so our dreams (were) kept alive and we’re able to move forward...Thank God for this, because (there) surely was something else to it besides physical.”
MSU will be favored heavily in all of those games and they should be able to win and get healthy with the biggest game of the season looming on Nov. 21 against No. 1-ranked Ohio State (7-0 overall, 3-0 Big Ten).
“Just an incredible ending to a great football game,” Dantonio said. “I think that’s why football is loved so much in America.”