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Great moments in MSU sports history: 'Little Giants'

March 21, 2020
Head Coach Mark Dantonio stares in disbelief at a touchdown call in the end zone during the game against Notre Dame on Sept. 23, at Spartan Stadium. The call was reviewed and confirmed as called on the field. Photo by Matt Schmucker. Design by Daena Faustino.
Head Coach Mark Dantonio stares in disbelief at a touchdown call in the end zone during the game against Notre Dame on Sept. 23, at Spartan Stadium. The call was reviewed and confirmed as called on the field. Photo by Matt Schmucker. Design by Daena Faustino.

Michigan State has canceled all sports activities as our community deals with the COVID-19 crisis. In a time when sports have ceased, The State News is looking back at great moments in Michigan State sports history. Soon, we’ll be back to a world with sports, but for now, the past will have to do.

We'll be compiling these moments into a bracket with the MSU community voting on the best one, starting on April 1, via Twitter.

Today, we’ll be looking at the 2010 football game between Notre Dame and Michigan State.

Date: September 18, 2010

Venue: Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, Michigan

Matchup: Notre Dame (1-1) vs. Michigan State (2-0)

The background: "Little Giants." It is a two-word moment ingrained in Michigan State and Notre Dame football fans that no doubt still evokes emotion.

This game was just a microcosm of what turned out to be a crucial year for both the Spartan football team and coach Mark Dantonio, who was in his fourth season at the time.

MSU was coming off of a 6-7 campaign in 2009. They entered the game with a 2-0 overall record, while ND was an even 1-1.

MSU had defeated the Fighting Irish four of the last seven times they faced off.

The Fighting Irish were led by first-year coach Brian Kelly, who is now in his 30th year of collegiate coaching, 11th at ND, and named the winningest active coach in NCAA football at multiple levels.

This game was also the first meeting of Dantonio and Kelly.

The game: I was born and raised in a Spartan household. My next door neighbor, and dad's best friend, however, was a die-hard Fighting Irish junkie.

I vividly remember this game day for the sole fact that my dad and him had a huge bet going and the loser would have to hang the winner's team flag over their garage for a week.

ND was the first to put points on the scoreboard at Spartan Stadium after quarterback Dayne Crist completed a seven-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Michael Floyd.

The blue and gold held their early lead until the final minutes of the second quarter. With 2:22 left on the game clock, MSU quarterback Kirk Cousins launched a six-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Keshawn Martin to head up a 7-7 tie by halftime.

The third quarter of the game saw MSU with the kickoff. On their second play from scrimmage, running back Edwin Baker scored a 56-yard touchdown.

The green and white's lead didn't last long, and the game became a desperate back and forth battle. The score was tied at 21 entering the fourth quarter.

And then, like magic, both teams failed to move the ball for the remainder of the game. The tie was set in stone and the game went into overtime.

The suspenseful tension that comes with a riveting game like this one skyrocketed between my dad and our neighbor in this moment. Fingers were crossed and everyone was on the edge of their seats.

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After Notre Dame kicked a field goal, Cousins was sacked on 3rd and 5 for a loss of 9 yards, and the green and white appeared to line up for a 46-yard field goal attempt that would send the game into a second round of overtime.

Instead, holder and punter Aaron Bates stood up to pass, and threw downfield to a wide-open tight end Charlie Gantt for the game-winning touchdown.

The fake-out play was called "Little Giants" after the 1994 American family sports comedy film starring Rick Moranis and Ed O'Neill.

"We always name our trick plays after movies. We keep it fun," Mark Dantonio said. "We actually put it in on Wednesday. It worked every time. I made the call, ‘Little Giants,’ and I said a little prayer."

The aftermath: My neighbor was certainly not happy to bear the green and white flag with the block Spartan 'S' for the whole subdivision to see that much I can tell you.

This rendition of the Battle for the Megaphone Trophy proved to be one of the most memorable in the series.

The green and white went on to finish the 2010 regular season with an 11-1 overall record. This is the most wins to date in school history.

They also qualified for their third straight bowl game, something that had not occurred since the 1995-97 seasons, and secured their first share of the Big Ten Championship in 20 years with No. 7 Wisconsin (11-2).

Dantonio and Kelly met five more times between 2011 and 2017, and now, the 123-year long rivalry has been put on a hiatus.

The two teams will not meet in their regular seasons again until 2026.

After the game, Dantonio suffered a mild heart attack and was hospitalized. He had surgery to put a stent in that would relieve a blocked blood vessel leading to his heart.

Former Offensive Coordinator Don Treadwell was named as the acting head coach during Dantonio's recovery time. Dantonio resumed his duties from the press box for the sixth game of the season — the rivalry game against Michigan.

Dantonio has since retired, going down as the winningest coach in Michigan State sports history. He has passed the torch to former Colorado coach Mel Tucker, who will take over in the upcoming season and looks to reestablish the Spartans as a national powerhouse.


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