ANN ARBOR – Don’t bother flipping through the history books – there has never been a crazier finish in the Michigan State-Michigan rivalry than the one that just took place at Michigan Stadium.
U-M punter Blake O’Neill lined up for a sealing punt with 10 seconds left and U-M up 23-21, but he fumbled the snap, took a hit and the ball went into the hands of MSU’s Jalen Watt-Jackson – who streaked all the way for the winning 38-yard touchdown on the final play of the game.
A stadium full of U-M fans expecting to revel in a gigantic rivalry win instead had to watch as the Spartans celebrated wildly in the north end zone, then carried the Paul Bunyan Trophy to the other side to its throng of fans in green.
Somehow, MSU has now won seven of eight games in this rivalry for the first time in history. And the No. 7 Spartans (7-0, 3-0 Big Ten) remain alive for their Big Ten title and College Football Playoff pursuits.
Before that stunning play, MSU senior quarterback Connor Cook came up empty in his attempt to bring the Spartans back. His deep pass to an open Macgarrett Kings Jr. on fourth-and-19 hung up and was broken up by Michigan’s Dymonte Thomas to seemingly deliver a win for No. 12 U-M (5-2, 2-1).
Cook threw for 328 yards and a touchdown and Aaron Burbridge had 132 yards receiving, but the Michigan kicking game dominated MSU’s struggling special teams. Until one of the biggest special teams plays in MSU history.
Univerisity of Michigan Wolverines Sione Houma scores against the Michigan State Spartans during first quarter action Saturday, October 17, 2015 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor.
It was 7-0 U-M early, but the Spartans answered thanks to Cook, LJ Scott and a crucial penalty. U-M linebacker Joe Bolden was ejected on a controversial targeting call after he hit Cook with his helmet, perhaps after he was blocked into Cook.
Cook then hit Burbridge for 13 yards and Scott rumbled 11 on the next play to tie the game. A 38-yard Michigan field goal capped the first-half scoring. It was 17-7 Wolverines, though, after a short drive off an MSU trick play gone bad.
Mark Dantonio went with a fake punt on fourth-and-8 from his 31, and Tyler O’Connor – MSU’s backup quarterback and backup punter, playing in place of Jake Hartbarger – was stopped a yard short on a run. U-M quickly moved 38 yards and finally punched it in from the 1 after three plays and reviews near the goal line.
Then Cook answered. He hit Burbridge for 14, R.J. Shelton for 27 and Kings for a 30-yard touchdown, with Kings burning Jeremy Clark. It was 17-14.
It was 20-14 after a Michigan drive the Spartans stopped at their 3. Cook then moved the Spartans in position to take their first lead, and on fourth-and-10 from the Michigan 32 in the face of a blitz, he delivered a perfect pass to an open Kings – dropped at the 20.
Cook got another chance, but couldn’t get a first down starting from his 4. Another Peppers return started U-M at the Spartans’ 28, and it resulted in a 38-yard field goal to make it 23-14.
Then, boom, Cook hit the Wolverines on a slick play against a blown coverage. Fullback Trevon Pendleton leaked out of the backfield after a run fake and was wide open after a short pass – racing all the way to the goal line, originally ruled in for a 75-yard touchdown. It was deemed short on a review, Scott walked in on the next play and it was 23-21, setting up the final dramatics.