Denard Robinson and the Michigan offense lined up on their own 20-yard line with just thirty seconds remaining.
Like they had been several times throughout the back-and-forth game, the Wolverines were down against Notre Dame — this time by three points, 31-28.
On the first play, it looked like Robinson missed his chance to lead the game-winning drive. He dropped back, escaped the pocket and launched a pass over the head of receiver Jeremy Gallon, who was open enough and close enough to the sideline that he would have been able to catch it and get out of bounds for a 20-yard gain.
The very next play, though, Robinson and Gallon made up for the mistake.
Again, Robinson took the snap and scrambled to the right, launching to the same area of the field. But this time, Gallon was running wide open down the sideline on a wheel route, completely uncovered by the Fighting Irish.
Gallon caught it, cut to the inside and scampered all the way down to the 16-yard line with just eight seconds left.
All Michigan needed was a field goal, and it had two timeouts left. Instead of getting it to the middle of the field and stopping the clock for the game-tying kick, though, coach Brady Hoke opted to go for the win.
Robinson sent running back Vincent Smith in motion out of the backfield, took the snap, dropped back and lofted a ball to the front-right corner of the endzone.
Junior wide receiver hadn’t caught a ball all night. But this time, staring into the bright lights in the first ever night game in Michigan Stadium history, Roundtree leapt over the Fighting Irish defender, snagged the ball and landed in bounds with two seconds left and the game-winning touchdown.
“He told me in the huddle,” Robinson said to reporters after the game. “And I knew he was going to get it.”
Added Roundtree: “Once I saw the ball come off, it was high. Denard put it up high so I can adjust to it. Once I came back towards it, he was still up on me, so I just jumped up in the air and focused on it and when I came down, I made sure my one foot was in.”
About 90 seconds before Roundtree’s game-winner, it didn’t look like the Wolverines would need a last-second touchdown.
With 1:22 left, Robinson completed a screen pass to Smith on the left side of the field. Smith bobbed and weaved his way through the defense, finishing with a cut to the outside and a 21-yard, go-ahead touchdown to take a 28-24 lead.
But it took Notre Dame just 42 seconds to answer back. Quarterback Tommy Rees hit wide receiver Theo Riddick for a 29-yard score to set up the dramatic final drive from Robinson and Michigan.
Things looked dire for the Wolverines throughout much of the game, though.
Michigan struggled to get its offense going through much of the first half. At halftime, the Wolverines trailed, 17-7, and when the Fighting Irish scored the lone third-quarter touchdown, Michigan’s deficit increased to 17 points.
The Wolverines finally punched in a score on the first play of the second half, and punched in is used quite literally.
Robinson handed the ball off to sophomore fullback Stephen Hopkins from the one-yard line, but Smith fumbled it trying to break through the line. The ball bounced back to the feet of Robinson, who scooped it and took it around the left end to pull his team within 10.
“Once I handed it off, I looked, I was like, ‘What?’ ” Robinson said. “And I just grabbed the ball and ran.”
Robinson led Michigan into the endzone once again just over four minutes later, lobbing a 14-yard fade route to Gallon in the front-right corner of the endzone.
As it turns out, Robinson throwing to that part of the endzone would become the stuff of legends about 10 minutes later.
That 2011 season ended with the Wolverines defeating Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl, polishing off Hoke’s first season with a marquee victory on the national stage.
But none of that could have happened without Robinson’s performance against the Fighting Irish, where, under the lights for the first time at home, Michigan pulled off one of the most unlikely wins in its history on the back of Robinson.