Coghlin kicks MSU into first place in Big Ten East

EAST LANSING, Mich. — In one of the crazier college football games of 2017, No. 24 Michigan State survived a seven-hour and three-minute roller coaster of a game, outlasting No. 7 Penn State 27-24 on a game-winning, 34-yard Matt Coghlin field goal.

“We felt really good with Matt in this game,” co-defensive coordinator Mike Tressel said. “We feel really good with where Matt is at and we were very confident with him with that kick.”

Penn State took a 14-7 lead with them into the dressing room as both teams, as well as all of Spartan Stadium were asked to evacuate because of inclement weather. The weather delay lasted three hours and 23 minutes, a record-breaking weather delay.

“We let everyone relax and then we got our energy going before heading back out,” head coach Mark Dantonio said. “Some of our guys were eating pizza, some took a nap, I even saw a guy coming out of the shower.”

After the long delay, both teams were stagnant on offense until the Spartans went 69 yards in just five plays, with quarterback Brian Lewerke connecting with Felton Davis, who used all of his 6-foot-4 frame to dive and haul in a 33-yard touchdown grab. The teams headed into an abbreviated halftime of twenty minutes deadlocked at 14.

“I think we played really well today, especially in the first half,” Dantonio said. “I thought we threw the ball really effectively today, just a big win for us.”

Lewerke finished the first half with an impressive showing, going 18-for-29 for 217 yards and two touchdowns at the break. Davis was the Spartans’ leading receiver on the night, catching 12 balls for 181 yards and the touchdown from Lewerke.

“I felt good throwing the ball tonight,” quarterback Brian Lewerke said. “Their defense left some holes throughout the game that I was able to take advantage of tonight.”

The Spartans’ defense was outstanding in the first half, holding Heisman front-runner Saquon Barkley to just 13 yards of total offense. The sophomores, safety David Dowell and linebacker Joe Bachie each picked off quarterback Trace McSorley in the first half.

“It’s always stopping the run for us, and we just needed to swarm him [Barkley],” Tressel said. “As the passing game slowed down a bit, we just made some big stops with him.”

Both teams stood pat in their opening drives of the second half, but it was the Spartans to strike first, this time driving the field 91 yards on 10 plays, eating up 5:10 in the third quarter. Facing a crucial third-and-18, Davis busted off a 36-yard reception, keeping the drive alive.

Freshman Hunter Rison hauled in his first two passes of the game, with a fantastic 26-yard reception, and then a 17-yard diving grab the following play to put MSU inside the 3-yard line. LJ Scott rumbled into the endzone from three yards out to give the Spartans a 21-14 lead.

Following a Nittany Lion field goal, PSU struck again, this time coming off a 70-yard McSorley strike to DeAndre Thompkins, who went into the endzone untouched after Josiah Scott slipped in coverage to put the Lions ahead 24-21.

After an early fourth quarter Matt Coghlin field goal, the two quarterbacks traded interceptions, with both teams failing to capitalize on the miscues. With an MSU roughing-the-passer penalty and a PSU intentional grounding call, the Lions went for it on fourth and three, with McSorley’s attempt falling incomplete to Thompkins.

The Spartans took over from their own 45-yard line with 4:05 left and drove the field to get Coghlin within field goal range. A Tariq Castro-Fields roughing the passer call negated a fourth down from MSU, and extended the drive. PSU chose to allow MSU to play for the win, and despite several attempts to ice him, Coghlin drilled the game-winner right down the middle.  

With the win and an Ohio State loss to Iowa today, the Spartans and Buckeyes are sitting atop the Big Ten East at 5-1 and have a pivotal divisional game next weekend in Columbus. The teams are set to kickoff at noon next weekend, with the television network yet to be announced.