SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Down 7-6 with 1:34 left in the Redbox Bowl , Michigan State had a chance to take the lead against Oregon.
It was fourth-and-9 on the Ducks’ 32-yard line, and kicker Matt Coghlin was lining up for 50-yard field goal — his fourth field-goal attempt of the day and trying to make his third.
“Felt good kicking that with the wind at our back, and he’s been usually been pretty good,” MSU coach Mark Dantonio said. “Inside the 46, he’s been good.”
But, as Dantonio said, “we’ll never know,” as quarterback Brian Lewerke, who doubles as the field-goal holder, fumbled the snap and tried to make a play.
But Lewerke failed.
“That’s one I gotta come up with,” he said. “The ball kind of hit my hand to the top of the ball, and I didn’t really get my left hand underneath. So, I tried to make something happen, but that’s what happens.”
And after a three-and-out by Oregon and a four-and-out by MSU, the Ducks (9-4) secured the 7-6 win over the Spartans (7-6) at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, the home of the San Francisco 49ers.
“Holding Oregon to seven points, it’s not an easy task at all,” Lewerke said. “We have to score more points.”
The Spartans finished with 331 yards, with Lewerke going 22-of-40 for 172 yards and an interception, while running a season-high 16 times for 63 yards in his first game under center since a loss to Ohio State on Nov. 10.
Running back LJ Scott ran 24 times for 84 yards in his last game at MSU. Wide receiver Cody White had six catches for a team-high 64 yards, with wide out Darrell Stewart Jr. had a team-high nine catches for 45 yards.
“I don’t think any of us played our best game on offense,” White said. “Just going into the offseason, trying to perfect the things that we did bad.”
The Ducks totaled 203 yards, with quarterback Justin Herbert going 19-of-33 for 166 yards and a touchdown. Running back CJ Verdell had 14 carries for 43 yards, while wide receiver Dillon Mitchell had six receptions for a team-high 70 yards and a touchdown, good for the Redbox Bowl's offensive MVP.
“You take a victory whether it be one point, two points or 50 points," first-year Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said. "These guys found a way to get it done."
The game started off with seven straight punts between the two teams until the start of the second quarter, when MSU was on Oregon’s 20.
On third-and-5, Lewerke bobbled the snap out of the shotgun and tried to throw it away, but instead threw an interception to Oregon safety Jevon Holland with 14:51 left in the second quarter.
Nothing came of it, however, as MSU’s defense stopped Oregon’s offense after it gained one fresh set of downs, forcing a fourth-and-10 punt from the Ducks’ Tom Snee on the Spartans’ 42.
Which was a commonality throughout Monday afternoon’s contest, as MSU’s defense allowed 11 Oregon first downs compared to the Spartans’ 19, and held the Ducks to zero trips to the red zone.
“As a defense, we knew the game was going to come down to us,” said linebacker Andrew Dowell, who had seven total tackles, .5 sacks and a pass breakup. “We knew we had to step up. We knew Oregon had a very good passing attack, very good running attack. So we came out and tried to play our best football today.”
And while the defense tried to play its best football, the offense tried to put up points, with the second opportunity since Lewerke’s interception with just above 3:30 left in the second quarter.
It was a fourth-and-1 on Oregon’s 23, and instead of kicking a field goal, MSU decided to run a play-action pass, which ended with an incompletion to White.
“I thought we had an opportunity for a big play, but they came off the edge, and the guy made the play,” Dantonio said.
After a drive from MSU and Oregon ended in punts, the score at halftime was tied at zero.
But, it wouldn’t remain that way in the third quarter, as MSU’s opening drive resulted in a 34-yard field goal by Coghlin with 9:57 left — and his first of two made field goals — giving the Spartans the 3-0 lead.
Then two Oregon drives later on a second-and-13 on the Ducks’ 9, MSU defensive end Kenny Willekes broke his left fibula while being blocked by Oregon left tackle Penei Sewell, Dantonio announced postgame.
But, Willekes did come back on the sideline in the fourth quarter in sweatpants and a sweatshirt while on crutches and wearing a boot on his left leg.
“You can never question his heart,” said cornerback Josiah Scott, who was named the Redbox Bowl’s defensive MVP with three total tackles and four pass breakups. “He always want to be around his teammates, he wants to always get his team fired up — and he’s a leader on the team.”
After the Oregon drive which Willekes broke his fibula on, Coghlin hit another 34-yard field goal to give MSU a 6-0 lead with 1:17 left in the third quarter.
It wouldn’t remain that way, however, as Herbert tossed it to Mitchell for a 28-yard touchdown to give Oregon the 7-6 lead with 11:19 left in the game.
"We take those points all day," said Oregon linebacker Troy Dye, who had eight total tackles and a sack. "Especially when you have (Herbert and Mitchell),that's a great combo.They always find a way to get it done."
The following MSU drive, the Spartans moved from their 36 to Oregon’s 32, which resulted in a 50-yard field goal attempt which Coghlin missed wide to the left.
And to end the Ducks following drive, punter Blake Maimone lined up for a fake field goal on MSU’s 28 with just over 7:21 left in the game, moving everybody but three players to the right side of the field.
The Spartans snuffed it out, with Dowell and linebacker Jon Reschke sacking Maimone for a loss of seven.
Which Dowell thought gave MSU a chance to win, and to “put our offense in good positions.”
“We’ve watched multiple films, clips of them with the fake field goal,” Dowell said. “Me and Joe (Bachie) were communicating on that. Joe said he had the long snapper, I had the QB. Just came of the edge, made a play.”
The Spartans’ offense got an opportunity with another 50-yard field goal attempt by Coghlin with 1:34 left in the game.
But, Lewerke fumbled the snap and threw it away, giving Oregon the ball.
And after a Ducks three-and-out and a MSU four-and-out, Herbert kneeled to secure the 7-6 win in the Redbox Bowl.
“I guess we underachieved,” said defensive tackle Raequan Williams, who had four total tackles and a half sack. “We got to overcome this. Spartans Will.”