Spartans stun Cats for biggest comeback in I-A history

EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) -- Nearly an hour after the game, Drew Stanton was trying to digest what he'd just been a part of -- the

greatest comeback in NCAA Division I-A history.

Trailing 38-3 in the third quarter, Michigan State rallied

Saturday for a 41-38 victory over Northwestern as the Spartans

ended a four-game losing streak in dramatic fashion and momentarily

took the heat off coach John L. Smith.


ESPN Classic will re-air the Michigan State at Northwestern game as an 'Instant Classic' on Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET.

"It hasn't really sunk in yet," Stanton said.

After a frustrating losing stretch that began when they blew a

big lead late against Notre Dame, the Spartans finally got a chance

to experience the other side. It felt pretty good.

"Hopefully this can be a turning point in our season. I

definitely think it can be and people can build from this," said

Stanton, who shook off a late hit in the third quarter, one that

sent him sprawling into concrete around the bench and knocked him

out of the game for a series.

Michigan State (4-4, 1-3) got back in game when Ashton Henderson

returned a blocked punt for a TD early in the fourth, and the

Spartans won it when Brett Swenson kicked a 28-yard field goal with

13 seconds left following a key interception by Travis Key.

Smith, who's been under heavy criticism, took no questions in a

postgame news conference. He pointed to his staff and especially

his players.

"The ones who really deserve the credit are those guys," Smith

said. "They played the game, they believed in each other. They

continued to fight, they pulled together and deserved everything

they got today."

Until this riveting game, the biggest comeback in Division I-A

was 31 points -- when Maryland beat Miami 42-40 on Nov. 10, 1984,

and when Ohio State defeated Minnesota 41-37 on Oct. 28, 1989.

Northwestern (2-6, 0-4) led 24-3 at the half, and the crushing

defeat sent the Wildcats to their fifth straight loss.

"As difficult a loss as I've ever been a part of," said

first-year Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, who took the blame

for his team losing momentum and eventually the game. "It hurts

very bad."

Michigan State trailed 38-3 with 9:54 left in the third quarter

after Northwestern's C.J. Bacher threw his third TD pass, a

5-yarder to Shaun Herbert.

Stanton, battling assorted injuries, tossed a TD pass of 18

yards to Jehuu Caulcrick with 7:03 left in the third. A.J.

Jimmerson's 4-yard run, after a 19-yard pass from Stanton to Kerry

Reed, made it 38-17.

After a 64-yard run by Tyrell Sutton, Northwestern was ready to

go ahead 45-17 but Kaleb Thornhill turned away yet another Wildcats

scoring drive by intercepting Bacher in the end zone.

Moments later, Stanton later was knocked to the sideline on a

late hit by Northwestern's Corey Wootton and replaced by Brian

Hoyer for a series.

Michigan State then made it 38-24 early in the final period when

Devin Thomas blocked a Northwestern punt and Henderson returned it

33 yards for a TD.

"I think the blocked punt is when people really started believe

we had a shot to come back," Stanton said.

Stanton re-entered the game on the next series and immediately

drove the Spartans 60 yards, completing three passes for 34 yards

and carrying 12 yards for the TD with 7:54 left, making it 38-31.

The Spartans then stopped a third-and-1 by the Wildcats, who had

to punt, and Stanton completed six straight passes in a six-play,

58-yard drive, capping it with a 9-yard TD pass to T.J. Williams

that tied the game with 3:43 left.

Key then intercepted Bacher at the 30 with 2:59 left and State

moved in position for Swenson's field goal.

Bacher completed five of six passes on Northwestern's first

possession, a 71-yard drive capped by Bacher's 5-yard TD pass to

Ross Lane that made it 7-3.

On their next series, with the aid of two pass interference

calls against the Spartans, the Wildcats moved in again, going 74

yards with Bacher hitting Jeff Yarbrough on a 14-yarder to the 2

and then carrying the final couple of yards for the TD early in the

second quarter.

Joel Howells kicked a 30-yard field goal to make it 17-3 on the

next possession. Eric Peterman took a Bacher swing pass, broke two

tackles and raced 47 yards to the Spartans 9 before the drive

bogged down.

An 18-yard halfback option pass for a TD from Brandon Roberson

to Herbert made it 24-3 late in the half. Bacher's 22-yard pass to

Lane gave the Wildcats a 31-3 lead early in the second half.

Stanton completed 27-of-37 for 294 yards. Bacher, who made his

first college start, moving ahead of announced starter Andrew

Brewer, was 15-of-29 for 245 yards. Sutton finished with 172 yards

on 21 carries.

Northwestern linebacker and leading tackler Nick Roach broke his

right leg early in the second half and is likely finished for the

season. He was carted off the field after being hurt while covering

a punt with 12:20 left in the third quarter.