Wisconsin rallies to beat Michigan State for Big Ten title

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Wisconsin got the late touchdown it
needed, the late stop it needed and the big break it needed Saturday
Otherwise, the inaugural Big Ten championship game may have ended the same way the Badgers’ first round
with Michigan State did.
Ball scored four touchdowns, the last coming on a 7-yard run with 3:45
left, and the Badgers used a running into the kicker penalty to kill the
clock as No. 15 Wisconsin hung on to beat No. 11 Michigan State 42-39
and earn a second straight Rose Bowl bid.
"It makes it twice as
nice," Badgers coach Bret Bielema told the crowd after hoisting the
"They came out today, they weren’t going to be denied, and to
do it here, first time ever — Big Ten champs, twice!"
Yes, the
Badgers (11-2) were ready to party when streamers started covering the
field. Some players walked into the postgame news conference carrying
roses. Quarterback Russell Wilson, the game’s MVP, tucked the rose
behind his ear.
Next up for Wisconsin is Pac-12 champion Oregon, which beat UCLA in its conference title game Friday
But the Badgers almost didn’t make it.
losing on a deflected Hail Mary pass in October in East Lansing, the
Spartans (10-3) looked as if they might pull off another miracle
comeback Saturday night when they forced what appeared to be a
three-and-out with less than two minutes to go.
Coach Mark
Dantonio called for a punt block, but instead of getting the ball or
taking advantage of Keshawn Martin’s return inside the Wisconsin 10-yard
line, Isaiah Lewis hit punter Brad Nortman. The 5-yard penalty gave
Wisconsin the ball with Michigan State out of timeouts.
Game over.
don’t know if he hit him," Dantonio said. "You probably have seen all
the replays, but he threw the flag. I thought he flopped a little bit."
It’s the second straight year, Michigan State and Wisconsin have been in the Rose Bowl hunt at season’s
Badgers got the invite last year based on a tiebreaker. This year, they
took the undisputed title thanks primarily to their two offensive
leaders — Ball and Wilson.
Ball was his usually spectacular self
early and efficient late. He ran for more than 100 yards and scored on
two 6-yard TD runs in the first quarter. He scored two more times in the
final 13½
minutes — once on a 5-yard shovel pass and the other a
7-yard TD run that gave Wisconsin a 40-39 lead. A conversion pass from
Wilson to Jacob Pedersen made it 42-39 with 3:45 left.
finished with 27 carries for 137 yards and three scores, and his four
TDs put him within one of breaking Barry Sanders’ FBS mark (39) as he
tried to impress the Heisman voters.
Wilson was nearly as good. He
was 17 of
24 for 187 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions
and broke the NCAA record by throwing a TD pass in his 37th consecutive
game. Graham Harrell of Texas Tech held the previous mark (36).
"This is one of the reasons I came here," Wilson said of the Rose Bowl ticket.
loss not only extended Michigan State’s Rose Bowl drought, it hasn’t
gone since 1988, and ruined Dantonio’s pregame prediction. In an
interview taped Friday, Dantonio told a local radio station that the
Spartans would win the game and go to the Rose Bowl.
He and the Spartans tried everything to make that happen.
Spartans ran a fourth-down pass play, called a fake extra point and
even got an impromptu lateral for a score —
and that was just in the
first half. Kirk Cousins made most of it work. Only one of his 17
first-half passes hit the ground in the first half, and he wound up 22
of 30 for 281 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
But it was Cousins’ ability to fool the normally stout Badgers’ defense that nearly won the game.
fourth-and-1 in the second quarter, he got Wisconsin to bite on a fake
pitch and hooked up with a wide open B.J. Cunningham for a 30-yard TD
pass to cut the deficit to 21-14.
On its next possession, Michigan
State receiver Keith Nichol, who wrestled the Hail Mary pass across the
goal line to beat Wisconsin in October, beat the Badgers again. This
time, he caught a short pass from Cousins and just before stepping out
of bounds lateraled to Cunningham, who ran the final 4 yards for a TD.
Michigan State then called for a fake extra point that Brad Sontag ran
in to make it 22-21.
"We felt we were having our way offensively
the whole game," Cousins said. "We never felt like it was won. But we
felt like we had our way offensively."
Even after playing more
conventional football for most of the next two quarters and taking a
36-34 lead, the Spartans lined up two different players in the Wildcat
formation, ran a reverse and drove for a 25-yard field goal to make it
39-34 with 8:31 left in the game.
But just like the first meeting, the Badgers answered.
led Wisconsin on an eight-play, 64-yard scoring march, converting a
fourth-and-6 when Wilson scrambled, threw back across the field and Jeff
Duckworth made a spectacular adjustment to haul in a 36-yard pass. On
the next play, Ball burst up the middle for the 7-yard TD to give the
Badgers the lead.
This time, the Wisconsin defense stiffened and
after a replay review overturned a third-down play that would have gone
for a first down, the Spartans punted for only the third time in the
They never got another chance.
"It’s tough," Cousins said. "We came close two years in a row. We don’t get to go, it’s
Michigan State’s Martin had a career-high nine receptions for 115 yards, the second 100-yard game of his
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.