EAST LANSING – As rain fell on the final minutes of the game, it seemed destined to be another Michigan afternoon, which now means a Tate Forcier afternoon, which now means some last-second miracle from a freshman darting around like a scared squirrel.
After all, the Wolverines had just gone 92 yards on 12 plays – without a time-out! – and Forcier had run or thrown the ball on every play. By the end the snap was squirting out of his hands and he was still picking it up and connecting, making the damn game up as he went along.
Then, in the final seconds, third-and-eight, he found Roy Roundtree open in the end zone and suddenly the score was tied and the Wolverines were celebrating and Forcier might have fluffed his cape and flown away were he not so dog-weary exhausted.
All the magic was on Michigan’s side. But magic is fickle. And destiny can be wooed by will.
“What did you tell your team going into overtime?” someone asked Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio when this wild affair finally ended.
“We’re gonna snatch it from ’em,” he said, his jaw set. “When they thought they got us, we’re gonna snatch it from ’em right back.”
When you put it that way – who could refuse? And so Forcier’s overtime pass into the end zone ricocheted into the air and was intercepted by diving cornerback Chris L. Rucker. And moments later, on a third-down play that Dantonio admitted was just an attempt to position a field goal, a running back named Larry Caper, another freshman, took a handoff and plowed through one would-be tackler, evaded another and out-quicked another – and whoo-hoo, look who had the scared squirrel now!
Caper curled upfield, sped into the end zone and no kick was necessary, because the game was over.
Snatched. The greatest of feelings
“Honestly, I don’t remember the play,” Caper said. Don’t worry, kid. All your fans do. Most of them, before that run, had “that feeling in my stomach,” that MSU’s Blair White admitted when thinking about Michigan’s all-too familiar, 14-point comeback in the fourth quarter. Hadn’t the Spartans long been known for blowing games at the end? Hadn’t they lost that way twice this season?
But just as sun tucked under rainclouds Saturday and rain gave way to shadows, so did this game shift from gloom to gladness for the Spartans Nation. When Caper hit the end zone, the Green-and-White stormed the field in what White called “probably the greatest thing I’ve felt in my life.”
You can excuse the hyperbole when you consider what the Spartans had to overcome to get this 26-20 overtime victory. Want a list? I’ll condense it for you:
An interception on their first pass. Fifty yards of penalties on a single scoring drive. Another interception – five yards from the U-M end zone. A fumble in the fourth quarter. A 60-yard U-M touchdown pass. Forcier’s incredible heroics. Oh, and karma. MSU is not supposed to win this rivalry more than once before losing again. In fact, it had been 42 years since the Spartans took back-to-back games from U-M.
“It doesn’t feel like we’re 2-3,” White said. “It feels like we’re 5-0.”
Snatched. The games that define teams
They aren’t 5-0, of course. The Spartans still have a ways to go to even reach bowl status, and No. 22 Michigan, in falling to 4-1, still had positives: it nearly won despite an anemic running game. Forcier laid another stunning card on the table, leading that fourth-quarter drive in his first collegiate road game.
“Were gonna keep fighting until the game’s over,” said the freshman, who wound up as U-M’s leading passer and rusher. “You can’t win all of them.”
Sometimes you can’t even win the ones you thought you had. Rich Rodriguez needs to avoid these French Connection chase scenes to secure his victories, and Saturday at Iowa is going to be tough.
Meanwhile, MSU, depressed until Saturday, has 12 months to feel like king of the state. “This game has a way of defining you,” Dantonio said.
Maybe. The truth is, both teams got a little lucky. And both teams made luck of their own. One team, MSU, snatched it at the end. And years from now, or maybe even this morning, that’s all anyone in this rivalry will care about.