Thursday, May 28, 2020

The moments that helped write Mark Dantonio's story as Michigan State football coach

After 13 years, Dantonio has closed his chapter as head coach, these are the moments that filled his story

February 5, 2020

All chapters must close, and all stories must end. A story closed Tuesday, for Michigan State football coach Mark Dantonio. Dantonio announced that he will no longer be the head coach for the Spartans, in a letter via his twitter.

As one chapter closes and another opens for Michigan State football, here are, in no particular order, Mark Dantonio’s 10 greatest on-field moments that helped write his part of this story and establish a new standard for Michigan State football.

No. 10: Year One

In Dantonio’s first season as the Spartans' head coach, 2007, he guided them to a seven-win season. After winning their last two regular season games, the Spartans turned a losing season into Dantonio’s climb to 114 wins.  

The seven wins were enough for a bowl bid — the Spartans' first in four years. After turning around a losing season, the Spartans finished a trip to the Champs Sports Bowl, the program's first bowl appearance since 2003.

No. 9: First win over Michigan — Michigan State 35, Michigan 21, Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Oct. 25, 2008

Dantonio had to wait one year for this one. After losing a lead late to the Wolverines a year prior, Dantonio's words echoed from the loss, into the next decade of Spartan football.

“Pride comes before the fall ... it’s not over and it’ll never be over."

On Oct. 25, 2008, the Spartans set the tone of a new chapter in their rivalry with Michigan Wolverines. It was the start of the 'Dantonio Era' and the Spartans' first win against the Wolverines in seven years.

The victory in Ann Arbor set a new standard for excellence, as the Paul Bunyan Trophy was stuck firmly in the Spartans' hands for the next four years.

Dantonio finished 8-5 overall against Michigan.

No. 8: Little Giants — Michigan State 34, Notre Dame 31 (OT), Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, Sept. 18, 2010

On Sept. 18, 2010, the Spartans trailed Notre Dame by a field goal in overtime. In range, Dantonio sent his field goal unit out to make the game even.

The trick up Dantonio's sleeve was the greatest during his time with Michigan State.

On fourth-and-14, punter and holder Aaron Bates stood and scrambled a few steps right. With little time in the pocket, Bates saw Le'veon Bell double covered, then fall.

Emerging downfield was tight end Charlie Gantt.

Bates connected for a 29-yard touchdown, as Gantt strolled untouched into the end zone, ball pointed up in one hand. The trick play gave the Spartans a 34-31 win.

No. 7: Cotton Bowl Comeback — Michigan State 42, Baylor 41, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, Jan. 1, 2015

After trailing 41-21 to the Baylor Bears in the 2015 Cotton Bowl, it looked as if the Spartans wouldn't put up a fight.

But as time ran down, the Spartans made their push.

Blazing back from a 20-point deficit, a Tony Lippett field-goal block led to one last Spartan drive.

A Connor Cook-Keith Mumphery connection gave the Spartans the comeback win.

In his time, Dantonio won six bowl games.

This, another one of his most important:

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No. 6: First Bowl Win — Michigan State 33, Georgia 30 (3OT), Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla., Jan. 2, 2012

After five tries with the Spartans, Dantonio finally got his first bowl win in 2012 against Georgia in the Outback Bowl, but it didn't come easy.

Trailing 16-0 at halftime, it looked like the Bulldogs might run away with a bowl win.

A Darqueze Dennard pick-six and an 85-yard touchdown drive led by senior quarterback Kirk Cousins with 18 seconds left later, the Spartans were headed to overtime.

Then two more.

A Dan Conroy kick gave the Spartans a three-point lead in the third overtime, and Anthony Rashad White blocked Georgia kicker Blair Walsh's field goal attempt to send Dantonio home with his first win.

The win marked the first bowl win of four straight, and the first of six total.

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No. 5: Trouble With the Snap — Michigan State 27, Michigan 23, Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Oct. 17, 2015

One of Dantonio's greatest moments boils down to one play.

The call is one that has made its way into sports history.

Dantonio's Spartans had played a close game throughout, but with 10 seconds left, they trailed by two.

Michigan lined up to punt and ... he had trouble with the snap,

The ball was scooped up by Jalen Watts-Jackson and he rumbled down the field and into the endzone.

Dantonio has been a part of some crazy endings to games, none crazier than this. The win made even sweeter, because it was his first against a Jim Harbaugh-led Michigan squad.

No. 4: L.J. Scott's Stretch over Iowa — Michigan State 16, Iowa 13, Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Ind., Dec. 5, 2015

In 2015, Iowa was unbeaten going into the Big Ten Championship game. The Spartans had one prior loss.

Both were in contention for a College Football Playoff berth.

Trailing late in the fourth quarter, the Spartans would get one last chance.

A mesmerizing 21 plays, a Connor Cook fourth-down conversion and 13 L.J. Scott rushes later, the Spartans were on the two-yard line.

Scott's jersey was called again.

Running to the right, he broke one tackle, then another.

With three Iowa defenders on his back, Scott would poke the ball over the goal-line with one hand.

The true freshman gave the Spartans a lead with 27 seconds left and secured Dantonio's second Big Ten Championship.

The win would give the Spartans their first College Football Playoff berth.

No. 3: Big Ten win over Ohio State — Michigan State 34, Ohio State 24, Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Ind., Dec. 7, 2013

After 7-6 the year before, Dantonio told his players they would be "the ones".

Down 24-20 going into the final quarter of the 2013 Big Ten Championship against unbeaten Ohio State and with a trip to the Rose Bowl on the line, the Spartans had a chance to bring his words to life.

His defense made a stand throughout the entire quarter. Two punts and two turnover-on downs gave the Spartans offense enough to work with.

Connor Cook connected early in the fourth quarter with Josiah Price on a nine-yard score that gave the Spartans a lead.

Late in the fourth, Jeremy Langford broke away for a 29-yard touchdown dagger.

It was a proud moment for Dantonio: five years of work had come to fruition.

“I live for my players,” Dantonio said. “Our players, I’m so happy for them. They made a lifetime moment tonight for all of us – all of us had that moment, our fans, our players. 

“It will be a moment that we’ll never forget.”

The win gave Dantonio his first Big Ten Championship and led to something even more special:

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No. 2: The Rose Bowl — Michigan State 24, Stanford 20, Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Ca., Jan. 1, 2015

Perhaps the moment that solidified Dantonio’s legacy was the 2014 Rose Bowl.

Coming off a 7-6 season, there needed to be a drastic change. Quarterback Connor Cook helped lead it.

Finishing at No. 3 in the AP poll, the Big Ten Coach of the Year led the Spartans to 13-1 and 8-0 in the conference, including a Big Ten championship victory over heavily-favored Ohio State.

But the biggest moment came in Pasadena, California.

Prior to this moment, their dry spell was long. The Spartans hadn’t won the Rose Bowl since 1988.

In the 100th Rose Bowl, the Spartans knocked down Stanford 24-20, when former walk-on Kyler Elsworth made a fourth-and-one stand to clinch the game.

The victory sent then-sophomore quarterback Connor Cook out as Rose Bowl MVP, and brought a smile to Dantonio’s face as he held up the Rose Bowl Trophy for all the Spartan fans that made the trip to the Mecca of college football.

Through his rare smile, the man of few words emphasized the toughness of this Spartan team.

“You win with toughness,” Dantonio said. “There’s no question about that. You win with toughness, physically and mentally, and I thought we did that tonight.”

Though this win wouldn’t be his last, it may have been the sweetest – Especially for the Spartan fans who made the trip.

This win, and all the others, led up to one number. A number that stands alone in the Spartan record books, and a number that finishes Dantonio’s story as head coach.

No. 1(14)

114 wins. The most in Spartan history.

Amid his last and most controversial year in 2019, as his leadership and struggles were put in the spotlight, Dantonio eclipsed Duffy Daugherty for the win record for the Spartans with a win No. 110 against Northwestern.

His answer was typical Dantonio, but again, he shared his smile with the public.

"I knew that sooner or later that maybe it will come," Dantonio said. "To be honest with you, I'm just focused on winning the football game. Those things that come with that, 110, I think those are things that you sit back at a later time and say, 'OK, did this, did that.' It's not an individual thing. It's just so many people working towards it.” 

The feat had Dantonio look towards the past, accept his place in history and respect everything that came before him

"He really was a bigger than life type person," Dantonio said on Duffy Daugherty. "When I reflect on this next win at some point, I plan on it this weekend but at some point, it’s sort of a milestone but it really allows me to reflect back on history, on history of college football and really what Duffy Daugherty did for the game of college football and what he did for the country in that respect in a lot of ways."

He cemented his legacy prior, but this one was special. It was a milestone, but it was a long time in the making. Dantonio's impact stretched from the football field, all the way to his lake house, where his players remember him as a father figure.

In his 13 years Mark Dantonio wrote a story. His story included amazing victories and losses he may want to forget. It included championships and failure– where his Spartans came just short of greatness.

And the 13 years ended with something all too familiar to Dantonio — a win. In what was his final game as head coach, Dantonio reached 114, with a win in Pinstripe Bowl over Wake Forest.

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