Michigan State's defense collapsed under the weight of Michigan wide receiver Braylon Edwards, who put on a one-man highlight reel performance in the fourth stanza, stealing away what appeared to be a huge upset for Michigan State.
The Spartans had been staked to a 17-10 halftime lead by sophomore quarterback Drew Stanton. Stanton had run five yards for a touchdown and junior tailback DeAndra Cobb burst threw the Michigan defensive line for a 72-yard touchdown run, offsetting Michael Hart's 7-yard scoring run for Michigan.
But the game turned when Stanton was knocked out of the contest on a quarterback draw play when he was driven hard into the turf by Michigan linebacker Lamarr Woodley, who added an extra shove after Stanton was down.
"I got hit and landed on my shoulder," explained Stanton. "I don't really know what the injury is yet. I have to wait until tomorrow to get re-evaluated. It's just real hard because I want to be out there. I felt like we were gaining momentum the whole time."
The MSU signal caller suffered what was preliminarily diagnosed as a shoulder sprain and was through for the day.
"He's your leader, he's the guy that's really done a lot of good things for us lately," said Spartans coach John L. Smith of Stanton's loss.
"He had a spark and we were rolling. That's the game of football, the second-team guy has to be ready to come in and I thought he came in and did a good job. He performed well. He gave us opportunities to win. We just had to make the plays."
The second team guy turned out to be senior Damon Dowdell who got the call and delivered, engineering another touchdown drive when Cobb burst free for a 64-yard jaunt and David Rayner finished another Spartans drive, connecting from 19-yards out.
But after a Michigan drive yielded a 27-yard Garrett Rivas field goal, Wolverine freshman quarterback Chad Henne underthrew a jump ball pass which appeared to be intercepted by corner Jaren Hayes. Edwards wrestled the ball away from Hayes in mid-air, landing with one foot down in the endzone. The score was a huge momentum changer for the Wolverines.
When MSU misplayed the onsides kick, Michigan recovered and capitalized on the miscue. Henne connected again with Edwards on another jump ball touchdown pass over Hayes and just like that, Michigan had wiped out the 17-point State lead.
The Spartans had a chance to win the game in regulation when Michigan was called for pass interference, but Rayner's 52-yard attempt into the wind fell short.
In the first overtime, Rivas and Rayner exchanged field goals, sending the game into double overtime.
State appeared to have it won again when Jason Teague rushed it into the end zone from 3-yards out to give MSU a seven point lead. But Henne, found Jason Avant in the same corner of the end zone after MSU slapped double covered on Edwards.
Avant beat Hayes to send the game into triple overtime.
In the third extra session, Henne hit Edwards on a skinny post, beating safety Jason Harmon on the coverage. Going for two, tight end Tim Massaquoi got behind linebacker Ronald Stanley for the conversion. MSU's last gasp chance to Eric Knott went incomplete ending the heartbreaking loss.
Obscured by the loss was a sensational, career-high 22 carry, 205-yard rushing performance by DeAndra Cobb and 535 yards of total offensive by the Spartans.
"There's not a lot to say, other than you have to give them credit," admitted Smith. "They're a great football team; they've got some great athletes. When it came down to having to make plays to win it at the end, they made the plays. They won it and we didn't make the plays to win. But I'm proud of our guys. We played a good football team and we played well."
Michigan coach Lloyd Carr admitted that without Edwards' heroics, the Wolverines were in trouble.
"There is no question that Braylon made plays he has to make or we don't win. Those were great catches. All three of those catches were plays where the defender was in pretty good position. It wasn't like we just ran by somebody. Michigan State's secondary was right where it needed to be. Henne made some great throws and Braylon made some great plays."
After such a crushing loss, will the Spartans be able to rebound and get ready for Ohio State next week and will they have Stanton available to try to preserve a drive to a bowl game?
"You realize the things you did well and know how to critique the things you didn't do well," said Stanton.
"We have to pick up and move on because we have Ohio State coming in next week and we don't have an easy road ahead. But this shows that if we work hard we can beat anyone."