One play earlier, Cousins had running back Larry Caper all alone in the end zone, but throwing off his back foot over threw him and missed the chance to take the lead. On the ensuing play, Cousins made the cardinal mistake of throwing over the middle late and set up McCarthy's heroics.
The Spartans got down early when Armando Allen scored from 13 out. Brett Swenson answered with a 43-yard field goal to cut the lead to 7-3 but Jimmy Clausen hit Michael Floyd for a 22-yard TD pass, but Notre Dame missed the conversion to give the Irish a 13-3 lead.
Keshawn Martin completed the wide receiver option hitting Blair White from 30-yards to cut the lead to 13-10. MSU agressive went for the on-sides kick and executed to perfection, but a chance to take the lead went by the board when Caulton Ray fumbled and Notre Dame recovered. The Irish converted the miscue into three on Nick Tausch's 22-yard field goal.
The Spartans took their first lead when Larry Caper cashed in a 6-play, 81-yard drive to end the half at 17-16.
The Irish retook the lead when Allen from the Wildcat formation, hit Robby Parrish from 5-yards out to go up 23-17. Tausch added a 46-yarder to give the Irish a nine point lead, but Caper got his second TD of the game, rushing in from 7-yards out to cut the Notre Dame lead to three.
Cousins hit Mark Dell on a beautiful slant play and Dell rumbled 57 yards to set MSU up at the Notre Dame 17-yard line. Cousins hit White from there to give MSU a 30-26 lead.
Clausen answered with a 33-yard TD pass to Golden Tate, giving Notre Dame a 33-30 lead that stood up when MSU got to the Notre Dame 18-yard line before the two-play stretch that determined the outcome.