12:00 PM ET, October 21, 2006
Ryan Field, Evanston, IL
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."
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.