EAST LANSING Early Saturday evening on the Spartan Stadium turf, a chaotic finish to the Michigan-Michigan State football game may have handed the game to the wrong team.
With 17 seconds left in the game and Michigan State at the Michigan three-yard line, quarterback Jeff Smoker rolled out to his right and made a run for the endzone. When he was tackled after gaining only a yard, the clock kept ticking.
Out of timeouts, Smoker had to get his team to the line and spike the ball before time ran out. He did that the ball hit the turf before the scoreboard clock struck zero but it seemed as though the clock was stopped earlier than it should have been.
The ending even left ABC commentator Brent Musberger musing about the apparent result of the Spartans” “home-field advantage,” and Michigan Radio announcer Frank Beckman screaming, “That was criminal!”
On the next play, Smoker found T.J. Duckett in the endzone for the touchdown and a 26-24 win.
Michigan coach Lloyd Carr was visibly frustrated after the game. In the press conference, he responded to numerous questions with a simple answer: “They deserved better.”
Michigan players didn”t want to comment on the controversy.
“What does my opinion have to do with anything?” asked fifth-year senior center Kurt Anderson. “Michigan State has the win, we don”t. No matter what I think isn”t going to change the outcome of the game.
“I thought the clock was going to run out.”
When asked if he felt cheated, Anderson declined comment.
The official clock is kept on the field. While it is usually the same as the scoreboard, there is no way to no for sure if the official”s clock had expired before the spike.
“The referee has a job to do, and how he did that job will be evaluated,” Carr said. He would not say whether this comment meant that he intended to petition the Big Ten. He did, however, mention that he”s “sure the Big Ten will do the right thing. They always do.”
An elated Michigan State coach Bobby Williams tried to piece together the situation.
“I don”t run the clock there was one second left on the clock,” Williams said. The coach then stared down the media with a mischievous grin until everyone in the room started laughing.
The game”s finish evokes memories of the 1998 Rose Bowl, when Michigan beat Washington State for the national championship. In that game, Washington State quarterback Ryan Leaf appeared to spike the ball with one second left, but the clock had run out.