EAST LANSING — Emotions were running high Saturday afternoon at Hope Sports Complex, as the No. 8 Michigan State Spartans dueled with the No. 2 Oakland University Grizzlies in a club football matchup. The Spartans, playing their second game in team history, were looking to upset the reigning national champions and send a message to the rest of the National Club Football Association (NFCA).
Consider the message sent. The Spartans held on to defeat the Grizzlies by a score of 21-16, thanks to a fourth down stop in the closing seconds by the Spartan defense.
The first 26 minutes of the contest looked like the sequel to Alabama and LSU’s classic slugfests in 2011. Both teams missed on several opportunities to take an early lead. On their second drive, MSU fumbled the ball away in the red zone. In the first half alone, the Spartans couldn’t convert on three field goal attempts while the Grizzlies missed one of their own.
[su_pullquote align=”right”]”We had some guys that were literally being punched. I told [our players] what to expect. I told them this was not going to be a clean game.”[/su_pullquote]The scoreless tie came to an end when Oakland missed on a big opportunity with 3:31 left in the half. State fumbled the snap on a punt and the ball rolled all the way to the one-yard line, with Oakland in possession. But on first down and goal, the Grizzlies chose a play-action pass, which was intercepted and returned for a touchdown by freshman Tray Wiley. The score certainly pushed the momentum in the Spartans’ direction.
“[Wiley] picked it up at a time we needed it,” MSU head coach Al Manfroni said after the game. “I was pretty happy.”
Wiley was confident that he would score the ball after catching it.
“I saw the ball, and I play physical, so I went for it,” Wiley said. “It was 0-0, I had to score the ball.”
On the next drive, Michigan State marched down the field and scored a touchdown just before halftime. That goal, a 48-yard run by Zach Greene, put the halftime score at 15-0 MSU, with the help of a two-point conversion.
The Spartans’ first offensive drive of the second half ended in another Greene touchdown and a blocked extra point attempt, giving the hosts a 21-point cushion.
Greene, who broke big runs throughout the game, deflected all the praise.
“I just owe it to the [offensive line] for blocking,” Greene said. “A couple of times I [scored], but at the end of the day, those guys are the ones that break open the long runs for me.”
However, Oakland did not lie down.
Quarterback Brenden Newvine threw some deep balls and ran in a 14-yard touchdown to put his team on the board early in the fourth quarter. On the next MSU drive, a low snap on a punt attempt rolled out of the back of the end zone, giving Oakland a safety and cutting the lead to 21-9.
[su_pullquote]”Most of the staff here at State was at Oakland at one time or another. Coach Manfroni was the head coach in year one. I [defensive coordinator Chris Pickney] was the head coach last year, and we won a national championship.”[/su_pullquote]The Spartans then went for the kill on fourth down and goal from the four-yard line, but were stuffed. Two plays later, Newvine threw an 85-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 21-16 with six minutes left. After a three and out, the Spartans punted the ball away, giving the Grizzlies a chance to win the game.
But the Spartan defense stepped up when it counted. With first and goal at the 10-yard line, the Grizzlies lost yardage on their first three downs. On fourth down with under two minutes left, the Spartans sacked Newvine to clinch the victory.
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MSU’s defensive coordinator Chris Pickney was beaming about the stop after the game.
“Fourth down is all about who wants it the most,” Pickney said. “I told the guys that no one can beat them but themselves.”
Manfroni was certainly happy with the big stop, but felt that the Spartans should not have been in that position.
“We basically were in that position because we made a couple of bad mistakes,” Manfroni said. “Those scores that [Oakland] had should never have happened, but that just goes to show you that mistakes will kill you. So you definitely have to be able to overcome and adapt.”
The game was chippy throughout, with six personal fouls called and many tussles after the whistle. Oakland safety Tra Seay was ejected after a penalty as well.
[su_pullquote]”Fourth down is all about who wants it the most, I told the guys that no one can beat them but themselves.”[/su_pullquote]“There was some bad stuff going on from their bench,” Manfroni said. “We had some guys that were literally being punched. I told [our players] what to expect. I told them this was not going to be a clean game. But I also stressed all week long that they would have to maintain their stature. We have to maintain a higher standard. I don’t want us to get tied up in that.”
Pickney pointed out that both teams were hungry for a national championship.
“Most of the staff here at State was at Oakland at one time or another,” said Pickney. “Coach Manfroni was the head coach in year one. I was the head coach last year, and we won a national championship.”
The Spartans did indeed emerge victorious on the field, and now have a bye week to celebrate. They will defend their undefeated record at home against Wright State University on October 25.
“2-0 is a good start for anybody,” Pickney said. “But we gotta continue to work.”