Notre Dame makes the big play this year and defeats Michigan State
By CHRIS FEDERICO
EAST LANSING, Mich.
Michigan State burned the Irish the last three years on a big pass play near the end of the game. This time, it was Notre Dame's turn to light the match.
Thirty seconds after Charles Rogers put the Spartans ahead with an acrobatic touchdown catch, Arnaz Battle scored on a 60-yard touchdown pass with 1:15 remaining as No. 10 Notre Dame beat Michigan State 21-17, snapping a five-game losing streak to the Spartans.
"I think our guys knew we had the ability to come back if we'd just be poised and stay true to ourselves and our team," Irish head coach Tyrone Willingham said. "We felt somebody would make a play."
It appeared the Spartans would extend their streak of last minute victories against the Irish when Rogers leapt above two Irish defenders and landed with one foot just inside the end zone to give Michigan State the 17-14 lead.
"[Rogers] is a great player making a great play, and he did that all day long, when he had the opportunity," Willingham said. "The catch in the end zone and his ability to hang and get one foot down — that's big time."
Former walk-on quarterback Pat Dillingham, who entered the game late in the third quarter after starter Carlyle Holiday was tackled hard on the Michigan State sideline, engineered Notre Dame's winning drive that started at the 28-yard line with just 1:41 to play and no timeouts.
After a 6-yard pass to tight end Gary Godsey and a pass interference call on Michigan State, Dillingham found Battle across the middle and the fifth-year senior broke the play for the winning score.
"One defender missed and fell down. I had some key blocks down the field, and I was able to spring the play off and score," Battle said.
The Spartans had one last chance to win the game when they got the ball back on their 26-yard line with 1:09 to play. They moved the ball to Notre Dame's 46-yard line before safety Gerome Sapp sealed the Irish victory with an interception on the 3-yard line as time expired.
"The past two years, they just beat us in the last few seconds in the game, and it was time for someone to just step up and make a couple of plays," Sapp said. "Before we went on defense, the coaches called us up, and we broke it on the sidelines saying `Win.' They said to do whatever you have to do to win this game."
The Irish opened an early lead on Michigan State with a 10-play, 80-yard drive on their first possession, capped off by a 6-yard Ryan Grant touchdown run to take a 7-0 lead.
The Spartans moved within four points on a 35-yard Dave Rayner field goal near the end of the first quarter.
With just 11 seconds left in the first half, Holiday completed his first touchdown pass of the year on a 15-yard strike to receiver Maurice Stovall. The play was the first collegiate touchdown for the freshman Stovall. The possession started at the Spartan 28-yard line when Sapp intercepted Michigan State quarterback Jeff Smoker off Irish cornerback Shane Walton's deflection.
The tide appeared to turn for Michigan State after the injury to Holiday and a missed 38-yard field goal by Nicholas Setta with just over three minutes to play in the third quarter.
The Spartans closed the score to 14-10 on their first possession of the fourth quarter when Smoker found Rogers in the end zone on a 38-yard pass.
Rogers ended the day with seven receptions for 175 yards and two touchdowns. He tied an NCAA record with his 12th consecutive regular season game with a touchdown catch.
The Irish moved to 4-0 on the season for the first time since 1993. They also moved up to No. 10 in both the AP and coaches' poll, the first time since 1998 the Irish are ranked in the top 10.
All Sports Stories for Monday, September 23, 2002