The very first play for Penn State on offense was almost a disaster.
After Michigan State jumped out to a 7-0 lead, with a touchdown on the opening drive, the Nittany Lions were looking to strike back. The first play to try to answer was a bubble screen to wide receiver Jahan Dotson, but the pass from quarterback Sean Clifford never got to his favorite target.
Instead, the ball was nearly intercepted by graduate student defensive end Drew Beesley. The wily veteran began his final game ever in Spartan Stadium by getting his fingertips on the first pass of the game and sending the ball tumbling into the snowy grass.
That was the beginning of a dominant finale for the 24-year-old former walk-on from Warren. Beesley finished the game with seven tackles, one and a half sacks and tackles for loss and a fumble recovery that set up MSU’s final touchdown in the fourth quarter.
“It being my last game in the Woodshed, you can say I was a little more motivated to get this W; but not just for myself, for the rest of my seniors also,” Beesley said with a smile, following the game.
Beesley, along with the 20 other members of the senior class, suited up for their last appearance ever in Spartan Stadium. The group that stuck around through a coaching change and a global pandemic was rewarded with a win in their final game at home to cap off a double-digit win season.
For many in the graduating class, it was an easy choice to exercise the extra year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic after a brutal 2-5 season in 2020. Guys like Beesley, center Matt Allen, left tackle A.J. Acuri and many other graduate students and seniors on the roster came back for one final ride.
The veterans stepped up one last time, led by Beesley on the defensive line, and came up with big play after big play to fuel Michigan State’s 30-27 victory over Penn State in the season finale.
“It’s very special to see those guys make plays and the adversity that they have overcome individually to be in position to make those plays for us,” Head Coach Mel Tucker said after the game.
Two of the biggest plays down the stretch came from the departing group of seniors. The first was courtesy of linebacker Noah Harvey, who started in place of junior linebacker Quavaris Crouch, who was inactive today.
At the beginning of the fourth quarter, Penn State was meticulously marching down the field once again after Michigan State had just scored a touchdown to retake a 23-20 lead. Unable to kick a field goal because of the blizzard taking place, Penn State elected to go for it from Michigan State’s 16-yard line on fourth and one.
The play call was an inside handoff to Nittany Lion running back Keyvone Lee. Lee only needed a yard but didn’t come close to reaching the line of scrimmage because Harvey was there to stuff him as soon as he got the ball.
The play resulted in a Penn State turnover on downs and preserved MSU’s narrow lead heading into crunch time.
“These guys aren’t just playing, passing through to go to the NFL, necessarily,” Tucker said about Harvey and Beesley. “It actually means something for them to play here at Michigan State. They play for their teammates, they take pride in it. And, so, that’s what you saw today, I believe.”
The big plays from the defensive veterans did not stop with the turnover on downs caused by Harvey. On the following Penn State possession, it was time for Beesley to step up once again.
Penn State went back to the inside handoff to Lee on third and one to try to move the chains. This time it was redshirt freshman linebacker Cal Haladay along with redshirt junior defensive tackle Jacob Slade who got into the backfield. Haladay was able to knock the ball out of Lee’s hands while he was pulling him to the ground.
The ball was only on the ground for a second before Beesley slid across the snow to scoop it up for his third career fumble recovery. The play proved to be the final turning point in the game as it set up Michigan State’s final touchdown to put them up 30-20 with five minutes remaining.
The plays from the senior class down the stretch proved to be the key difference in the game for the Spartans. Players like Harvey, Beesley and senior tight end Connor Heyward made one final impact for a Michigan State victory at home.
The victory pushed MSU to a perfect 6-0 record at Spartan Stadium this season—the first time that’s happened since 2015. For Beesley, it was a moment that he’ll never forget in a long career in the green and white.
“I had fun and I made sure I savored every moment after we got that win with the fans and the student section,” Beesley said. “I thank God for an amazing end to my MSU career.”
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