Spartans muster enough offense, beat Wake Forest in 2019 Pinstripe Bowl

Led by seniors, Spartans overcome slow start to win Pinstripe Bowl.

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Credit: Keyur Patel / Red Cedar Log (Instagram: _keyurpatel_)

Joe Dandron, Football beat writer

NEW YORK — Brian Lewerke came into the New Era Pinstripe Bowl against Wake Forest with the understanding that it was, of course, his final game as quarterback for the Michigan State football team. 

His play, alongside a plethora of Spartan seniors’, led MSU (7-6) to a nail-biting 27-21 win over Wake Forest (8-5) in the 2019 New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

“Just can’t say enough about our football team and our seniors,” said MSU head coach Mark Dantonio after the win. “They’ve stayed together,  when you win a football game at the end of the year, when you win a bowl game and so much goes into it from a preparation standpoint … it’s a good feeling.”

It was in the final three minutes that the game was decided. After Lewerke drove the Spartans from inside their own 10-yard line to the Wake Forest red zone with  completions of 16, 20 and 23 yards before another 24 yard play —the latter a shifty run of his own.

Then the MSU offense stalled and placekicker Matt Coghlin pushed a field goal attempt wide left with 3:03 remaining from 28 yards out. 

Shades of the Spartans’ early season loss to Arizona State arose, but unlike the early season loss, MSU’s defense forced a turnover on downs as Sam Hartman stepped in at quarterback for injured Wake Forest quarterback Jamie Newman, throwing one near-perfect deep ball that fell incomplete and another on fourth down.

“Huge plays by our defense,” said MSU head coach Mark Dantonio after the win. “Two times, getting off the field, I think two times on fourth down.”

The win adds to Spartan head coach Mark Dantonio’s school record of now 114 wins, which he set against Northwestern earlier in the year.

Despite the back-and-forth finish, Wake Forest threw the first punch in the game, opening up their first drive with a 29-yard Jamie Newman pass to Kendall Hinton that gave the Deacons a 7-0 lead to open up the bowl game.

It helped Wake Forest to a 21-20 halftime lead. Newman threw three touchdown passes in the first half.

In a game that started out back-and-forth, Lewerke threw his longest career pass, and maybe the most important of the 2019 season, on a 64 yard completion to Trent Gillison before walking into the endzone for an eight-yard rushing touchdown with 9:14 remaining in the second quarter. 

The 64 yard pass was a part of the seniors big day: 366 total yards, 2 touchdowns and a Pinstripe bowl game MVP award.

“That’s up there for sure (Lewerke’s play during the Pinstripe Bowl),” said Lewerke after the game. “The ball felt really good … it was a perfect recipe for it.”

It came after MSU defensive end Mike Panasiuk picked off Newman for a score after MSU fell behind 7-3 early on, returning the interception 14 yards for a score.

“First off, I would like to shoutout Mike (Panasiuk) for his touchdown,” said MSU defensive end and senior Kenny Willekes. “He’s gotta stop downplaying that. Because that’s pretty damn cool, to score a touchdown in Yankee Stadium … took the ball away. ”

That Panasiuk touchdown sparked a Spartan offense that went down again before the end of the first half for a field goal from 44 yards, then scored another touchdown to open the third quarter on a swing pass to Cody White from ten yards out. 

The White score gave the Spartans a lead over Wake Forest that they would not lose.

Wake Forest missed out on winning its fourth consecutive bowl game with the loss after winning three consecutive under head coach Dave Clawson. 

After starting 7-1, and going 1-3 over their last four games, the Demon Deacons did complete a fourth straight winning season despite the loss.

The only score of the third quarter came on the White touchdown for ten yards, which came after Elijah Collins’ 31-yard run and a Lewerke quarterback draw on fourth down in his team’s territory that kept the offense on the field.

Collins narrowly missed the 1,000 yard mark with 96 rushing yards in the game.

A gutsy call paid off as MSU and Wake Forest traded punts in the third before Lewerke threw his 13th interception of the year on a pass that was batted into the hands of Wake Forest’s Ryan Smenda with 2:03 to go in the third. 

But Wake Forest was unable to capitalize, end the ensuing drive with a turnover on downs. The Demon Deacons never recovered, not scoring in the second half of the game during the loss.

“I felt like we played with a lot more swagger in the second half,” said Willekes. “We came out firing in the second half. We made it our goal … we felt like we gave them a couple touchdowns in the first half and we said, ‘we’re gonna make it our goal to have a shutout this half.’ ”

Lewerke, despite an injury plagued 2018 season and up and down 2019 season became the MSU football program’s all time leader in total offense with 9,580 total yards of offense in his career.

MSU finished 7-6 for the second straight season. The program won its first bowl game since 2017, when they defeated Washington State in the Holiday Bowl.

MSU ends its football season with 7-6 record overall and 4-5 record in the Big Ten.

Joe Dandron is a football beat writer and columnist at Impact89FM. Follow him on Twitter @JosephDandronMI and contact him at dandronj@msu.edu