The 10 best games of 2011 (as viewed by me) – #7 – Wisconsin vrs. Michigan State, October 22, 2011

This is one of those games that you expect nothing coming in and when you get what you got when Wisconsin and Michigan State squared off in Lansing this past October you are pleasantly surprised.  These two teams don’t really have a rivalry, they don’t even play in the same division in the Big 10.  As a matter of fact the two teams had a re-match in the Big 10 Championship a few weeks ago.  Wisconsin was the #6 team in the country with a 6-0 record at that point.  They were just two weeks removed from a prime time nationally televised pounding of Nebraska, then the #8 team in the country.  Michigan State was 5-1 and ranked at #16 in the country.  This was an important game for both teams but the very end was what made this game great.

Montee Ball scored 1 of his 38 TDs in the 1st quarter

Wisconsin got out to a quick start in the 1st quarter.  They started the game with an 11 play drive that was capped off when senior quarterback Russell Wilson hit tight end Jacob Pederson with a 9 yard TD.  After forcing a fumble on Michigan State’s first offensive play from scrimmage Heisman finalist Montee Ball ran in a touchdown from 9 yards out to quickly give Wisconsin a 14-0 lead.  Michigan State could do nothing again on their next drive and the ensuing drive was thwarted by a Russell Wilson pass being intercepted deep in MSU territory.  It was 14-0 Wisconsin after the 1st quarter.  It would be all Michigan State in the 2nd quarter.

The Spartans blocked a punt at the end of the first half and returned it for a TD

The MSU scoring started a minute into the 2nd quarter when Russell Wilson threw the ball away while in the end zone, resulting in an intentional grounding penalty and a safety.  The Spartans received the free kick and it took them just four plays before receiver Keshawn Martin scampered 34 yards for a TD to make it 14-9 Wisconsin.  Wisconsin followed up with an 8 play drive down the field but kicker Phillip Welch’s 30 yard field goal was blocked by MSU.  Michigan State took the ball and responded with an 8 play drive of their own, culminating in a 34 yard TD strike from Senior quarterback Kirk Cousins to wide receiver B.J. Cunningham to give the Spartans their first lead of the game at 16-14.  Wisconsin got the ball back with only 1:20 remaining in the half and could do nothing with it, setting up a punt.  The Spartans blocked the punt and ran it back for a touchdown, stunning the Badgers and making the score 23-14 in favor of the Spartans at halftime.

The only scoring of the 3rd quarter came on a 33 yard field goal by Wisconsin kicker Phillip Welch to make it 23-17 Michigan State.  The two teams had saved all of the action for the 4th quarter.  Michigan State started the 4th quarter with the ball in the middle of a 13 play drive that ended when Cousins threw a 15 yard TD pass to Keshawn Martin and then completed a two-point conversion pass to B.J. Cunningham to give Michigan State a comfortable two touchdown lead with 10:58 left in the ballgame.  Wilson and the Badgers were undeterred.  The Badgers and Spartans traded 3-and-outs.  Wisconsin’s standout sophomore receiver Jared Abbrederis returned the MSU punt 33 yard to the MSU 43 yard line.  Three plays later Russell Wilson took one in himself from 22 yards out and got the Badgers within 7 at 31-24.  The Badger defense forced another three and out to give the ball back to the Wisconsin offense with 7:02 left however Wilson’s first pass of the drive was intercepted by Michigan State’s Isaiah Lewis at the Michigan State 39.  Once again Michigan State’s offense could produce nothing but they pinned the Badgers back deep at their own 13 with a punt with 4:28 left in the game.  It was Russell Wilson’s time to put the team on his shoulders.  He took Wisconsin down the field on an 8 play, 87 yard drive that ended when Wilson hit Montee Ball with a 2 yard TD pass to tie the game at 31-31 with only 1:26 left to play.

Video review showed that Nichol indeed crossed the plane for a game-winning TD

Michigan State had plenty of time to get into field goal range and hit the game winner if they could get some 1st downs.  It was Kirk Cousins’ turn to put his team on his back.  He converted the first 3rd down of the drive but on 1st and 10 from his own 34 he fumbled the ball when he was sacked.  Luckily for him offensive lineman Dan France jumped on the ball at his own 24 yard line.  Anticipating that they might get the ball back Wisconsin took their first team timeout with :42 left in the game.  Cousins completed his next pass to Cunningham, getting back the 10 yards lost on the sack plus 2 more.  Wisconsin took their 2nd timeout at :30 left in hopes of stopping the Spartans on 3rd down and 8.  Cousins came up big, completing a pass to Martin for 11 yards down to the MSU 47.  He hit the next pass for 9 yards and the Spartans took a timeout at :10 left.  They were at the Wisconsin 44 and needed at least 15 yards to get into realistic field goal range.  Cousins couldn’t complete the next pass.  They were out of field goal range and had only :04 left on the clock.  Time for the most hopeless play in sports, the Hail Mary.

Cousins hurled the Hail Mary pass as far as he could and by happenstances it was coming down right in front of B.J. Cunningham.  The only problem was when it got to him he didn’t see it coming and it caromed off of his face mask and into the hands of teammate Keith Nichol, who was standing outside the endzone.  Two Wisconsin defenders quickly grabbed a hold of him and wrestled him to the ground just a fraction of a yard before he got the ball across the plane of the end zone.  Or so we thought.  Before the refs started the preparations for overtime there was a booth review to confirm the touchdown.  As soon as the replay was shown everyone who was watching could see that Nichols did, in fact, break the plane of the end zone.  The call on the field was overturned and the Michigan State faithful started to celebrate like crazy.  They rushed the field and the Spartans couldn’t even kick the extra point and settled for a 37-31 win over their fellow Big 10 opponents.

Kirk Cousins celebrated the win

Wisconsin may have gotten the last laugh by defeating the Spartans in the Big 10 Championship and securing a spot in this year’s Rose Bowl but this is the game that everyone will remember.  That’s the great thing about college football.  A couple of kids who, if they are lucky, will be carrying a clipboard on Sundays for the foreseeable future, go out on a nationally televised game and light it up.  And besides, is there really a better play in sports than the Hail Mary, especially one that ends like that?

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About evonsports
30 year old sports enthusiast and aspiring writer from Boston.

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