The drought is over.
After a 26-year absence, Michigan State is headed back to the Rose Bowl and it couldn’t be more sweet.
Michigan State took down No. 2-ranked and undefeated Ohio State 34-24 to reach a 12-win season for the first time in school history, claiming its first outright Big Ten title since 1987 -- also the last time they booked a trip to Pasadena.
”I really can’t put it into words,” coach Mark Dantonio said. “I’m just so happy for our football team. We’re 12-1 and that’s goal No. 2 down. The ultimate goal for me is being 13-1. …
”We’re going to live this one for a while. We’ll live it out for a month. It’s important we finish what we started and that will end with the bowl game.”
There was little doubt that the moment was not lost on the Spartans immediately after the game, which senior Max Bullough said was “unbelievable.”
“It’s a dream and a vision that’s been out in front of us for so long and now we can touch it and it’s a tangible goal,” Bullough said.
”We will remember this for the rest of our lives.”
The moment was as tangible as the roses between the players’ teeth – which they have been working toward since last season ended.
“We worked really hard for this and it’s paying off,” wide receiver Tony Lippett said. “We still got one more step. We accomplished this and we are just trying to do our best to get this team back to Pasadena and that’s what we did.”
It took a career-high 304 passing yards from Connor Cook to buoy an offense that struggled to run the ball early and boost a defense that gave up a season-high 273 rushing yards to the Buckeyes attack of Carlos Hyde and Braxton Miller.
It was Cook early the broke the Spartans out to a 17-0 lead behind touchdown passes to Keith Mumphery (72 yards) and Lippett (33 yards), leaving Buckeye fans stunned.
The awe didn’t last long as OSU came storming back with 24 unanswered pointed fueled by a pair of short touchdown runs by Miller to take a 24-17 lead in the third quarter.
That would be it for the Buckeyes, though, as Pat Narduzzi’s defense stepped up – with a little bit of added motivation from the defensive coordinator who made his way down the field from the booth in the middle of the quarter.
“I told them with 24 points that they don’t score again and if they don’t score, we win the game and that’s what happened,” Narduzzi said.
With the defense back to form, the offense put together its second 17-0 run.
The Spartans regained the lead when Cook hit a wide-open Josiah Price in the end zone for a 27-24 lead.
The Buckeyes looked like they were set to come back again when linebacker Ryan Shazier blocked a Mike Sadler punt, but Denicos Allen stopped Braxton Miller on a fourth-and-2 attempt from the MSU 39-yard line to end the drive.
”I saw it was an outside play toward me and I had contain on outside plays,” Allen said. “At first I didn’t know I stopped him because I didn’t know how deep in the backfield was. … I got up and saw how far back he was and he was short.
”I knew at that moment, it took a lot from them.”
Michigan State capitalized on the next drive as Jeremy Langford pounded the ball downfield and capped the drive with a 26-yard touchdown to put the game out of reach and set off the celebration for the Spartans.
It was Langford’s eighth straight game of 100 yards or more after having just 22 in the first half.
Now, the Spartans will wait until the new year to meet Stanford in the Rose Bowl.
“It’s indescribable right now,” safety Kurtis Drummond said. “We are going to let this one soak in for a little bit. It’s something we haven’t done in 25 years and for us to be able to do that it’s a great feeling.”