The day was all about the seniors. The game was all about the underclassmen.
In the last regular season home game at DeMartin Stadium this year, the Spartans prevailed over Northwestern, 2-1. Goals from sophomore forward Ryan Sierakowski and freshman attacking midfielder Giuseppe Barone ensured that Senior Day was celebratory.
"It's a great senior class," MSU head coach Damon Rensing said. "They've been great in the classroom, on the field, good character guys. I think any time you have people that put that in the program, (the team) wants to perform for them."
But while the pregame and postgame laurels and pomp were unmistakably poignant gestures for the senior members of the roster, there was no time to rest on tradition for MSU. There was history to be made.
On Saturday afternoon, MSU played to make sure Senior Day would not be the last time the class of 2016 would take the field in East Lansing. Entering the game, MSU was fifth in the Big Ten standings but with a game in hand and a chance to host a Big Ten quarterfinal.
"Well, it would be great to have (home field advantage) in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament," Rensing said. "I just think you're comfortable. We know our surroundings, we know our routine, we sleep in our bed and we get the crowd."
With the win over the Wildcats, the Spartans soared to second in the standings with just one in-conference game remaining. If MSU is able to win on the final day and lock in their position, the team would claim a final Big Ten home game in the quarterfinals of the tournament.
For MSU, DeMartin Stadium has been a sanctuary this year. MSU has now won eight games at home this season, tying the 2010 team for a home win record. This year's team's only wish-wash result was a tie to Wisconsin, meaning the team holds an undefeated home record for the first time since 1975.
"Every game matters — the next game is always the most important game," Sierakowski said. "It's just honoring the field, honoring what came before us and just working our butts off to keep that going."
With so much to play for, the team still had a symbolic send-off planned for the seniors to properly honor their contributions. The underclassmen started it in flying colors.
After an enervating first half in which the first show on goal was not released until the 29th minute, Giuseppe Barone immediately altered the pitch of the game in the second half. His brother, sophomore winger Hunter Barone, lofted a ball to the body of Giuseppe Barone in the box, and he attempted the sublime. Giuseppe Barone twisted his body sideways before leaping into the air, mightily kicking one leg after another to generate power. His scissor-kick attempt was perfectly met and timed, with the ball ripping into the net.
"Hunter got the ball out wide, credit to him, he played a nice ball back post and I saw it coming," Giuseppe Barone said. "I didn't know what to do with it, so I just went up, thankfully got it, and take it ... definitely have tried a few of those in the past. I don't know if they've been executed like that."
Later in the second half, the revelry reached its apex. When redshirt-junior substitute Ryan Scott managed to find the end line and fire a rolling cross across goal, Sierakowski was quick to sense the opportunity. MSU's leading scorer latched on and polished off the chance with a close range bullet for a 2-0 home lead.
If not for the final heroics of Northwestern goalkeeper Francisco Tomasino, the differential could have been five or six. Tomasino withstood a salvo of shots in order to keep his team alive, and with an 88th minute Northwestern goal from forward Elo Ozumba, there was a final conciliatory prize for his efforts.
With the 2-1 victory, MSU plastered down one of their best home seasons of all time using a primarily underclassmen lineup.
"The classes coming in, the classes below me are great," senior defender Dewey Lewis said. "They've gave a lot of time and effort in this program already, and I see a bright future."
Sierakowski credited the elder members of the team for the progression this season, already having overtaken last year's win total.
"They paved the way for us," Sierakowski said. "They just showed us the ropes, and we're lucky to just follow in their footsteps."
With freshmen and sophomores scoring 14 of the team's 21 goals this season, Lewis isn't too worried. The departing class knows they're leaving the program in good hands.
"We have very good seniors, and they've led us the whole way," Giuseppe Barone said. "I think we have a great underclass, so going forward next year and the year after that, we'll be great."
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