Before a down of football was played in 2013, Mark Dantonio said he hoped his seventh season at Michigan State would be about completion.
After the final snap was in the books in Pasadena, Dantonio stood on the platform on the field and offered one word of which he was most proud: Completion.
”It’s an outstanding experience for our football team and to come away with a win just puts the icing on the cake,” he said.
The icing was a 24-20 Rose Bowl win for the Spartans, the first in 26 years, capping the first 13-win season in Michigan State history.
”I’m speechless right now,” senior cornerback Darqueze Dennard said. “Just to be able to accomplish the things we set out to at the beginning of the season and seeing them come to the end and doing what we did, it’s a great feeling.”
A fourth-and-one stop by Kyler Elsworth, starting in place of the suspended Max Bullough, clinched the victory for the Spartans as he leaped over the offensive line to stand up Stanford fullback Ryan Hewitt with 1:46 to go.
”Darien Harris and Shilique (Calhoun) were on both sides and I was right in the middle,” he said. “I was just happy he handed the ball of because if he wouldn’t have, I would have tackled their fullback without the ball.”
As it were, the senior capped off a dramatic game in Pasadena and earned the defensive player of the game. Connor Cook was awarded offensive player of the game for his second straight 300-yard passing performance.
The sophomore hit wide receiver Tony Lippett for a 25-yard touchdown, which the junior reached over the goal line to give Michigan State its first lead with 13:22 to go.
”I knew I was going to catch it around the 5-yard line,” he said. “I knew he was going to hit me, so I was like I gotta get in and God blessed me with these long arms.”
Lippett had five receptions for 94 yards and joined with senior Bennie Fowler (two catches, 97 yards) to lead the receiving corps. Trevon Pendleton hauled in a touchdown late in the first half to finish a long drive following a poor throw by Cook that was returned by Stanford’s Kevin Anderson for a touchdown.
Cook found Pendleton after extending a play and threw sidearm into the end zone for the 2-yard touchdown to the fullback.
Jeremy Langford got the Spartans on the board in the second quarter after falling behind 10-0 early. Langford entered with eight straight games with more than 100 yards rushing but saw that streak end with 84 against the Cardinal.
With the three touchdown bar reached – Cook has said the offense knows if it hits 21 points, the Spartans will win most games – the rest was left up to the defense, which cracked down after a lackluster early drive.
”When you look at the second half, we shut them down,” Dantonio said.
The Spartans stuffed two attempts on fourth down in the second half, with Denicos Allen stopping Stanford’s Tyler Gaffney in the third quarter.
”If you can come up in the clutch like that, that’s how you become a championship team,” linebackers coach Mike Tressel said.
No play was bigger or more clutch than Elsworth’s, though, as it wrapped a season so far from where it started in the struggles of early September.
“It feels great to finally accomplish our goals and to see how far we’ve come," safety Isaiah Lewis said. "We know how people had doubted us and we prevailed through all the trials. We did great.”
And far from the questions of four months ago, a goal set in motion when Dantonio arrived in East Lansing seven years ago reached completion.
”It’s sort of living the dream,” Dantonio said. “I woke up this morning and I knew the day might be very, very special if we played hard and that’s what we did.”