EAST LANSING – What are the chances?
What are the chances that Michigan and Michigan State would go to overtime for the second year in a row? What are the chances that both teams would miss potential game-winning field goals? And what are the chances that this will be the game that turns the Wolverines’ season around?
When junior Garret Rivas’s 35-yard field goal split the south end zone’s uprights, Michigan came away with an overtime victory for the second straight year and also may have righted its ship in the 34-31 win.
“I think our leaders have done a great job of keeping this football team together,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “They came in today in a tough arena, and they played their hearts out. For that, I’ll never forget this day.”
After failing to give Michigan a three-point lead with 48 seconds left in the game by missing a 27-yard field goal, Rivas got another shot in the extra period.
The Wolverines won the coin toss and put the Spartans on offense. On a second-and-five, Spartans quarterback Drew Stanton looked to his left for sophomore Terry Love, but junior cornerback Leon Hall provided tight coverage. As the pass came in, Hall dove and almost came away with an interception that could have sealed the game. Instead, Michigan State had another chance. But once again, Stanton was almost picked off. This time, Stanton rolled to his right and looked for Kyle Brown, but defensive pressure forced a poor throw that went straight to cornerback Morgan Trent, who dropped the easy pick. On fourth down, Spartans kicker John Goss pushed his 37-yard kick wide right – the second miss of the game for the redshirt junior.
Goss’s miss opened the door for Michigan to bring the Paul Bunyan Trophy back to Ann Arbor. The Wolverines’ offense used two quick runs to get the ball to the middle of the field to set up Rivas for the game-winner. On third-and-two, the junior gave Michigan the victory and redeemed himself for his previous miss.
“Every week, I fantasize about that moment,” Rivas said. “I want the game on my shoulders. I want that every week. It’s like a dream, especially when you come to Michigan State. These conference games mean so much. It’s great when it comes down to overtime and you get a chance on a stage like this.”
Rivas had the game on his shoulders after a wild fourth quarter sent the game to overtime.
At the start of the last 15 minutes of the contest, the Spartans had the ball at Michigan’s nine-yard line. An unsuccessful run on third-and-four set up a 23-yard attempt for Goss, but he missed the chip shot.
On the very next play, sophomore running back Mike Hart continued his great day in his return from injury. He broke a 64-yard run – a career long – down the left sideline to Michigan State’s 16-yard line. Hart finished the game with 36 carries for 218 yards and a touchdown.
“Well Hart is, you know, the heart of our team,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “We kept trying to take him out of there and he kept going back in.”
Hart finished the drive he started by plunging in from one yard out. It looked like he was going to be stood up at the line of scrimmage, but in typical Hart fashion, he didn’t go down on the first hit. He bounced off Michigan State’s Michael Bazemore and David Herron Jr., and barely kept his knee from touching the ground as he dove for the goal line, giving the Wolverines a 31-24 lead.
“I wasn’t going to miss this game for anything,” Hart said. “I don’t care how hurt I was.”
On the Spartans’ next drive, Michigan held them to a three-and-out and looked to put the game away. On a key third-and-11 from the Michigan State 25, Henne dropped back to pass. As he went through his progressions, the sophomore was pressured from his right side. Spartans defensive tackle Bobby Jones sacked and stripped Henne as his arm appeared to be moving forward. Defensive tackle Domata Peko picked up the ball and rumbled 74 yards for a game-changing touchdown that tied the game at 31.
“What I saw from the replay – and I didn’t get a great look – but it looked to me as though it was an (incomplete pass),” Carr said.
Said Hart: “That was a big play by their defense. But we’re champions and we came back and we knew we had to step up our game and come out there and get some more points on the board.”
Michigan came right back after the disheartening turnover. Fifth-year senior Grant Mason returned the ensuing kickoff 32 yards to the Michigan State 40-yard line. Then, it was the Mike Hart Show again. He carried the ball 11 of the next 13 plays – including a fourth-and-one at the Spartans’ 26-yard line – for 47 yards.
After Hart carried the ball five yards to Michigan State 10-yard line, Rivas had the Wolverines set up to take the lead but shanked the ball to the right; however, the Spartans couldn’t take advantage. A failed hook-and-ladder kept the clocking running, and Michigan State decided to take the game to the fateful overtime.
“It hurts, it hurts real bad. And it should hurt,” Michigan State coach John L. Smith said of the loss. “I hope the players feel it, and I hope they don’t forget the feeling. It’s tough, but we’ll bounce back.”
The shootout featured 45 first-half points, including Michigan jumping to a 14-0 lead. But the Spartans came back throughout the game, tying it three different times. In the end, Hart was too much for Michigan State and put the Wolverines back in the Big Ten race.
“We’re Michigan,” Hart said. “When Michigan State’s ranked ahead of you and you’re Michigan, it’s not good. There’s pressure there. That’s just pressure in itself. We’re 2-2 – that’s .500. That’s pressure in itself. So we knew it’s a must-win. We knew we had to come out here and win. And we did it.”