This time, Spartans do not fade

Michigan State exorcises demons of recent defeats, keeps bowl hopes alive

EAST LANSING, Mich.—As senior safety Jason Harmon led his Michigan State University teammates and the sold out Spartan Stadium crowd in a jovial rendition of the school fight song, the University of Wisconsin football team walked off the field in a stunned haze.

The scoreboard glimmered in the background: Michigan State 49, Wisconsin 14.

This time the Spartans did not falter.

In successive weeks, Michigan State had rival Michigan and Ohio State on the ropes. Each time, they let their prey turn the tables and watched fourth-quarter leads fade to oblivion.

All week long the outside world had told them they were going to roll over for Wisconsin. They could not play tough football, not after losing back-to-back heartbreakers.

Saturday was different. It was senior day. It was emotional and the Spartans came out as ready to play as any team in the country has all year.

"We came out, we were fired up and we knew up front we were better and we could beat them. We came out with that mindset," senior offensive tackle Sean Poole said.

How is that for deflated?

"What a great deal for our seniors," Michigan State coach John L. Smith said. "When they left the locker room, we talked to our players about the emotional deal and how they better lay it on the line for these guys. They never get to go out of this stadium again. They never get to put on this uniform again, your home uniform and walk out there. They played with their heart and soul."

Michigan State (5-5 overall, 4-3 Big Ten) had its collective back against the wall. After relinquishing a 17-point fourth quarter lead to Michigan and a 2-point fourth-quarter lead to Ohio State, the Spartans needed to close out their year with three straight wins to become bowl eligible.

Check win No. 1 in emphatic fashion.

The Spartans poured it on from start to finish but they led just 21-14 at halftime against the No. 4 team in the nation. When games were on the line, the Badgers had pummeled teams all season long, outscoring their opponents 50-23 in the fourth quarter.

This was a recipe for another Spartan late-game demise, another chronicle in a tale of heartbreak.

Not this Saturday.

Michigan State cradled an onside kick to start the third quarter and scored less than four minutes later. Then they added another, and another and another, until they had scored four second-half touchdowns, until they had out-gained the Badgers 315-192 in the final 30 minutes.

"I will remember this for the rest of my life," senior tailback DeAndra Cobb said.

"I couldn't ask for a better senior day," Poole said. "My last day in Spartan Stadium and it was perfect."

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