Lombardi, MSU defense the difference in win over Purdue

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Lombardi, MSU defense the difference in win over Purdue

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By Joe Dandron

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State needed every inch to walk out with a 23-13 victory over Purdue and coming off one of the toughest losses of the season, this was one MSU needed badly.

With quarterback Brian Lewerke out with an injury, the Spartans started redshirt freshman Rocky Lombardi. Lombardi showed up, and late in the fourth quarter of the ball game with the Purdue defense staring him down, he threw the pass that defined the afternoon.

“He’s an amazing athlete and he produced today,” MSU head coach Mark Dantonio said on Lombardi. “It was great for him and his family to get to see him play.”

On second down, true freshman receiver Jalen Nailor snagged a “pop” pass from Lombardi, weaving through what seemed like a sea of white and black uniforms before reversing the field on a 48-yard touchdown catch and run, giving the Spartans a 23-13 lead late and sealing the deal for Michigan State.

Lombardi looked good early, with a nice run for a first down on MSU’s first drive of the evening. However, the MSU offense was only able to nail a field goal and a 3-0 lead early.

Purdue’s freshman star Rondale Moore nearly returned a kickoff for a touchdown early to answer. The offense drove 48 yards to the 50-yard line before the Purdue offense went three and out.

Trailing 6-3 through the first quarter. Purdue’s offense got back into it halfway through the second.

Helped by a fourth-and-2 completion to Moore, the Boilermakers drove to tie the game 6-6 with 6:33 to go in the half.

After several Purdue drives stalled out, Lombardi and the Spartan offense took over with 2:22 to go in the half.

The redshirt-freshman drove from the MSU 13-yard line, going 6-of-8 for 85 yards passing, giving MSU a cushion with a 27-yard touchdown throw (the first of his career) to Darrell Stewart with :56 left in the second quarter.

With MSU nursing a 13-6 lead, Purdue narrowly missed a 57-yard field goal attempt to end the half. The Boilermakers offense had just 134 total yards at the break.

With the Spartans opening the half with the ball, the offense continued its nice start. As MSU moved the ball with the run before quarterback Rocky Lombardi opened it up with a 21-yard completion to the tight end Matt Dotson.

Following a beautiful field goal block by Purdue defensive tackle Lorenzo Neal that was recovered on the 1-yard line, the Boilermaker offense continued to struggle until late in the third.

Taking over with 3:01 left in the quarter, David Blough got the ball moving as he completed passes of 12, 15 and 30 yards on the drive. With the latter setting up a one-yard touchdown run by receiver Terry Wright, making it a 16-13 ball game heading into the fourth quarter.

With this game far from over and Purdue gaining some momentum heading into the final quarter, fans were set up for a big finish in East Lansing.

Purdue opened their second drive of the fourth only to see Blough throw his second interception of the game to MSU’s Tyriq Thompson, giving the Spartans the ball with ten minutes to play.

Giving the ball back to Purdue, a massive pickup opened the next drive as Blough sailed a 39-yard bomb to Isaac Zico. But the Boilermakers continued to be unable to convert, setting up a long field goal attempt on fourth down.

The ensuing 41-yard attempt smacked off the hands of MSUs Mike Panasiuk, keeping the score 16-13 in favor of MSU.With that, the Spartan offense began the drive that defined the game.

Lombardi and the offense got behind the wheel and drove, moving the ball from the Spartans own 20-yard line, before Nailor ran in the dagger touchdown with just under two minutes to play.

Lombardi finished 26-of-46 with 318 passing yards and two touchdown passes.

With the Spartans taking a 23-13 lead, Purdue attempted to push the ball before the biggest defensive play of the evening was made on the first snap of that last Boilermaker drive.

Matt Morrissey picked off Blough to close out the ball game and take it home as MSU walked off with the 23-13 victory.

The Spartans are now 5-3 this season and 3-2 in conference play. MSU will battle the Maryland Terrapins on Saturday, Nov. 3 at noon on the road with hopes of a bowl game in store.

Purdue falls to an even 4-4 with the loss, and 3-2 in conference action. Their next game is home against No. 18 Iowa next Saturday with a 3:30 p.m. kickoff.