There was 8:16 remaining in the fourth quarter, and the Spartan offense still hadn’t scored a touchdown. It was a game jam-packed with missed passes, questionable play calls and pitiful offensive execution.
It was second-and-10 on the Indiana 40-yard line, and the snap sailed over the head of quarterback Brian Lewerke for a nine-yard loss. A quick glance to the scoreboard read Michigan State 3, Indiana 9 and everyone in Spartan Stadium knew the petrifying truth. If the Spartan offense could not get in the end zone, they were almost certainly going to lose.
On third-and-19, somebody had to step up. Wideouts Darrell Stewart and Felton Davis III established themselves as Lewerke’s prime targets, complemented by LJ Scott, MSU’s leading tailback. But as Lewerke hiked the ball, over 74,000 fans would simultaneously lay their eyes on none of the above. Lewerke instead found true freshman receiver Cody White cutting inside, slipping past defenders for a gain of 16.
“When we were down, we didn’t [get phased].” White said after the game. “We didn’t do anything different than we have done. We just brought the energy even more, so I feel like that’s just what our team is all about.”
White’s reception was big, but four yards shy of a first down. The MSU offense elected to roll the dice to keep the drive alive. Lewerke received the snap on fourth-and-three and connected with Hunter Rison, another true freshman, for a four-yard pickup and first down.
“I know [Dantonio] trusts us because of our preparation,” Rison said after the game. “During the week, we go hard. There’s no days off…we prepare like we’re starters and we prepare like we’re the go-to guys, and that’s what you get when you prepare like that.”
A few plays later, the Spartans finally scored a touchdown, as Lewerke hit Davis for 10 yards with 5:59 remaining. One Matt Coghlin extra point later, the Spartans led 10-9. The crowd went into an uproar and the entire game took a 180. It took three-and-a-half quarters to do it, but two freshmen helped lead a game-changing drive, and one thought was on everyone’s minds: the Spartans just might grind this thing out.
“They (White and Rison) made a name for themselves today because they made big-time catches in critical situations,” MSU co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner said at the post-game press conference. “We’ve had a lot of confidence in them all year long and today they stepped up and did a great job for us.”
Up by one, the stingy Spartan defense stood tall, forcing the Hoosiers to punt. MSU received the ball on their own 36-yard line with 4:39 left. The game was still far from over. But if the Spartan offense could just push a little further, they could run the game out. Two plays elapsed and two yards were gained.
Third down and long.
Lewerke looked up and once again found Rison for a nine-yard first down grab. The offense carried the ball to the 48-yard line and was confronted with another third-and-long. Lewerke rolled to his right, and found White who scurried past defenders for a pickup of 34 to the IU 18. Scott punched it into the end zone the very next play, and the Spartans again scored a touchdown with major contributions from White and Rison. Soon after, the clock hit zero and MSU won 17-9.
White finished the day as Lewerke’s favorite receiver with six receptions for 99 yards. Rison only had two receptions for 13 yards, but they were two of the most clutch catches of the game on fourth and third down respectively.
“Cody White made some tremendous plays out there as a true freshman,” said MSU coach Mark Dantonio after the game. “Big third down catch for 16 yards… and a huge catch from Hunter Rison. I thought Hunter bounces back and has another big third-down catch.”
White and Rison had been fairly quiet leading up to Saturday’s contest against the Hoosiers, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t used to the spotlight. In fact, both players were highly anticipated MSU recruits in the 2017 class. The reason is partly because they both come from a family of football.
Sheldon White was a defensive back in the NFL from 1988 to 1993, which included two seasons with the Detroit Lions. In 2009, he was promoted to the Vice President of Pro Personnel for Detroit. In June, he came to East Lansing and became the Executive Director of Player Personnel & Recruiting for MSU football.
Andre “Bad Moon” Rison was an MSU wideout from 1985-1988 before playing in the NFL until 2000. He had the most receiving yards in MSU history with 2,992 until BJ Cunningham broke that record in 2011.
Both Sheldon White and Andre Rison were mentioned after the game, and both sons kept their responses short. When Cody White was asked what his father said to him after the victory, he didn’t say much. Just that he gave him a “big hug.”
For Rison, it was even simpler. When asked if there was a “bad moon rising,” he simply laughed and replied “maybe.”
But in each case, both White and Rison will look to regenerate their family legacy, while leaving a footprint of their own in East Lansing. Their first major contributions started Saturday, and it should only go up from there.
“[It’s] just our upbringing,” said White. “Him being Andre Rison’s son, me being Sheldon White’s son. Just going through football since we’ve been really young, and just learning and learning.”