If the lightning and delay weren’t enough to stop Michigan State, then Penn State certainly wouldn’t be. Matt Coughlin kicked a 34-yard field goal as time expired and the Spartans upset Penn State 27-24. The game was delayed 3 hours and 23 minutes during the second quarter due to lightning. This victory allowed the Spartans to reclaim the Land Grant trophy from the Nittany Lions, who had beaten them 40-12 last season in State College, Pa.
Spartans Fall Behind Before the Lightning
Both teams were reeling from last-second losses last week, but it was Penn State that came out on fire offensively. In the first quarter and a half, Trace McSorley was 15-22 with 193 yards. He threw two scores, to DaeSean Hamilton and Saeed Blacknall. The Spartans’ young secondary was shredded early for the first time all season. Josiah Scott in particular struggled, missing tackles on multiple late-down conversions. Curiously, the Nittany Lions seemed uninterested in handing the ball to their Heisman Trophy frontrunner Saquon Barkley. In fact, he totaled 6 carries for 0 yards in the first half as the Spartans stacked the box.
Offensively, the Spartans came out with a similar mindset. Brian Lewerke threw the ball well, targeting his experienced playmakers Felton Davis III and Darrell Stewart Jr. With 7:58 remaining, he was 12-18 with 159 yards and a touchdown. This point of demarcation is important because that is when the game was stopped. The referees went to the booth to review an out-of-bounds play, and came back with an order to evacuate Spartan Stadium. Lightning had been spotted in the East Lansing area. Three hours and 23 minutes passed with the Nittany Lions leading 14-7. When the storm finally passed, the teams returned to a tremendously muddy field. Thousands of fans chose not to return to the terribly conditioned stadium, but those that remained had a classic on their hands.
Momentum Shifts in the Second Act
After play resumed, the Spartans were dominant in the first half. In the last 7:58, Penn State ran 9 plays for -2 yards. The Nittany Lions had three drops and an interception. The Spartans, by contrast, were on point. They ran 16 plays for 83 yards, including a beautiful diving catch made by Felton Davis III for a 33-yard touchdown on a fly route. Lewerke was outstanding. Offensive coordinator Dave Werner made a clear philosophical decision. During the Mark Dantonio era, the Spartans have been known for keeping games, especially close games, on the ground. In this game, the onus would be put on the shoulders of the redshirt sophomore from Phoenix. He delivered in the third quarter, marching the Spartans 91 yards on 10 plays to take a 21-14 lead.
The Nittany Lions were not done yet. McSorley found a streaking DeAndre Thompkins all by himself after Josiah Scott slipped, and his 70-yard TD gave Penn State a 24-21 lead on the last play of the quarter. As a dark day slipped unnoticeably into night, the Spartans needed one more spark.
The Breach of the Lion Brigade
Lewerke delivered a field goal drive early in the fourth to tie the score at 24. He completed passes to six receivers on that drive. After the two teams traded interceptions, the Nittany Lions faced a 4th down and 3 at the Michigan State 31. In the muddy conditions, coach James Franklin elected not to kick a 48-yard field goal. He kept the offense on the field. The normally sure-handed Thompkins dropped a well-thrown ball, and the Spartans took over with 4:05 remaining.
The final Spartan drive will live in the lore of this rivalry for years to come. Lewerke engineered the drive down to the Penn State 37, where the Spartans faced 3rd down and 4. His pass was incomplete, but a late, low hit was called on Penn State safety Marcus Allen that prolonged the drive and put the Spartans in field goal range.
The rain came down all day and night. The mud was thick- green and white uniforms turned to an icky brown. The stakes were high. Yet, on the last play of the game, freshman kicker Matt Coughlin stepped up and confidently drilled a 34-yarder to win it. After his misadventures with the right upright at Ryan Field last week, to say that it was the biggest kick of his life would be a pretty massive understatement. He celebrated by sliding headfirst into the mud as his teammates mobbed him.
At Michigan State, winning in dramatic fashion is part of any successful season, be it the “Rocket” Hail Mary pass to beat Wisconsin, “Little Giants” against Notre Dame, “Rangers: Mission: 4:10” against Michigan, or “The Windmill” against Ohio State. To Spartan fans, these names are positively Biblical. Perhaps Coughlin’s “Mudslide” will add itself to the list soon.
It doesn’t get easier for the Spartans, as they head to Columbus at noon on FOX next Saturday to take on Ohio State. Iowa humiliated this Buckeyes team last week, and they will look to take their frustration out on the Spartans. But if one thing has been made clear this season, it’s that Michigan State bows to nobody. Not mighty Michigan, not Saquon Barkley, not even Mother Nature.