After a disappointing season, this year’s class of Michigan State football seniors took the field one last time to try and go out on a high note. And they did.
The Spartans (7-6) were crowned New Era Pinstripe Bowl champions after defeating Wake Forest (8-5) 27-21 Friday afternoon in New York City.
After a pair of drives by both squads that ended with zero points, the Spartan offense began to wake up. A slow but steady sixteen-play drive brought the Spartans into field goal range for a 23-yard Matt Coghlin field goal.
After a disappointing end to a long drive, the green and white seemed deflated, then the Panasiuk brothers decided to introduce themselves to New York City. After a tip from younger brother junior defensive end Jacub Panasiuk, senior defensive tackle Mike Panasiuk came up with the interception and a touchdown to give the Spartans their first lead of the day, and then gave Yankee Stadium a tip of the helmet in true baseball fashion.
The rest of the second quarter after the Panasiuk brothers' pick six was a back and forth offensive affair with a total of three lead changes in the final nine minutes of the first half. The tight ends for both squads were huge as MSU freshman Trenton Gillison set up an eight-yard Brian Lewerke touchdown run after a 63-yard catch. On the following drive, Newman found his own tight end Jack Freudenthal for a 45-yard score to take the lead back at 21-17.
The Spartans ended the first half with a 13-play drive that stalled out in the red zone once again as Coughlin knocked in a 44-yard attempt with under a minute to go to end the first half at 21-20.
After deferring to the second half, the Spartans began the second half with a 10-play drive that was capped by a Cody White touchdown grab to give the green and white a 27-21 lead.
The touchdown by White however would be one of the very few bright spots for either offense in the second half.
After trading stops on defense, the Spartans began to drive down the field and looked to take a 2-score lead. Then, Lewerke’s struggles in the second half of the season returned as he sailed the ball too high for Elijah Collins and the ball was tipped for an interception.
However, after struggling against Jamie Newman and the Wake offense in the first half, the Spartans made a crucial stop on fourth down in MSU territory. MSU drove into the red zone, but Gillison fumbled inside the Demon Deacon 10-yard line with 11:40 left in the game.
The Spartans came up with the stop on the following drive but were pinned deep into their own territory with seven minutes and change remaining. Lewerke drove the team down the field on an 80-yard drive to set up Coghlin for a potentially game-clinching kick. The junior, who had been 16-of-17 in his career on kicks under 30 yards, missed a 28-yarder to the left with 3:03 remaining.
Coghlin's miss left it up to the defense. On second down for the Demon Deacons, senior defensive end Kenny Willekes forced a fumble that pushed the Deacons back, leaving them with 3rd and 14. Then on fourth down, Willekes was the one who forced the pressure to cause the incompletion to win the game for the Spartans.
In his final game, Lewerke was able to have one of the best games of his career (26/37, 320 yards, one touchdown) and broke a huge record with it. Lewerke became the all-time school leader in total offense, surpassing former quarterback Connor Cook’s 9,403 total yards.
Wide receivers Cody White (eight catches, 97 yards, one touchdown) and Jalen Nailor (five catches, 60 yards, and 10 rushing yards) had big games along with Lewerke to help assist in a bowl win.
The Spartans' season of uncertainty has ended, and fans must wait eight months before they open the 2020 campaign against Big Ten foe Northwestern.