FOOTBALL: Sounding the Battle cry
By KATIE McVOY
Associate Sports Editor
EAST LANSING, Mich.
They blitzed the safety. The quarterback dropped back and threw. The wide receiver scored on the slant.
But this time, the wide receiver was wearing gold.
It finally clicked in for Arnaz Battle on Saturday. After watching Michigan State defeat his team the last four years, knowing the Irish hadn't won against the Spartans since 1994, the win was historic. And the win came on a big play.
"We got them on a slant," Battle said with a smile after Saturday's 21-17 win against Michigan State. "And they've beaten us with the slant the last couple of years. I think that's when it finally clicked in that I made a good play that's beaten us the last two years."
The win alone wasn't the only reason Battle had to smile on Saturday. He's struggled through all four Irish victories this season, hoping to make the big play, any big play. He's watched the ball bounce off his hands while teammates Omar Jenkins and Maurice Stovall have made 40-plus yard catches.
"I've tried so hard to make big plays that it's kind of been like I'm shooting myself in the foot," Battle said. "It's like I'm trying to hard instead of letting it happen."
It happened Saturday at the best possible moment.
For five years, Michigan State has beaten Notre Dame. In their house, in Notre Dame's house, it didn't matter. Before Saturday, not one member of the Irish football team had defeated Michigan State.
And with just two minutes left in the game, it looked like it was going to remain that way. When Spartan wide receiver caught a pass from quarterback Jeff Smoker on a fourth-and-11 play in the very end of the end zone, it looked like it was going to be like 1999, 2000 and 2001 all over again.
"Oh no, not again," defensive line coach Greg Mattison remembered thinking.
Just before Rogers caught the pass, the Jumbotron at Spartan Stadium flashed the winning plays of the last three contests these teams played in — Gari Scott catching an 80-yard touchdown pass in 1999, Herb Haygood scoring on a slant in the final seconds in 2000 and Rogers scoring on a slant with seven minutes left last season. It looked like the Irish might be falling back into the nightmare.
But then it happened. It just happened for Battle. Michigan State's safety blitzed and Battle adjusted his route. Backup quarterback Pat Dillingham noticed the route change and fired a short pass across the middle. Battle caught the pass and ran. And kept running.
"I was watching on the big screen and there was nobody else around him," said linebacker Courtney Watson. "And then he was just running for like 50 yards. I was happy as hell."
And Battle ran and ran until he crossed the goal line and won the game for Notre Dame.
"It happened when I least expected it," Battle said. "I was able to make a big play and score a touchdown in a key situation. That's all it comes down to — just being an athlete and letting it happen."
And with that, the nightmare was over. The fifth-year seniors, the seniors, the whole team beat Michigan State. The five-game streak ended and Notre Dame could finally say it had Michigan State's number.
"This is the best game of my life, by far," said fifth-year senior defensive end Ryan Roberts. "I could be done with football now as long as we beat Michigan State."
And the Irish did. Battle finally came through with the big play and just one thing that matters to both football teams right now.
"We didn't win the game," Spartan coach Bobby Williams said.
Or in the words of Gerome Sapp: "To beat Michigan State — that's the best."
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer. Contact Katie McVoy at email@example.com.
All Sports Stories for Monday, September 23, 2002