INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – L.J. Scott’s late lunge did more than put the ball across the goal line – it all but certainly put No. 5 Michigan State in the College Football Playoff.
Scott kept powering forward and stretched the ball into the end zone for a touchdown with 27 seconds that sent the Spartans past No. 4 Iowa 16-13 Saturday night in the Big Ten championship game.
Quarterback Connor Cook led the Spartans (12-1, No. 5 CFP) on a 22-play drive that set up Scott’s 1-yard run on third down. A half-dozen Iowa defenders tried to stop Scott, but he wouldn’t be denied.
Iowa (12-1, No. 4 CFP) lost for the first time this season – and just barely.
“Let’s get on and party,” Spartans coach Mark Dantonio shouted to the crowd.
After settling for three field goals in the first 59 1/2 minutes, Cook moved the Spartans 82 yards and kept their national title hopes intact.
Cook, the game’s MVP, methodically moved the Spartans in a drive that consumed nearly the final 9 1/2 minutes. He finished 16 of 32 for 191 yards with one interception and no touchdowns.
But with the season on the line, Cook and the offense made play after play against an Iowa defense that hadn’t given up a touchdown all night – until Scott got free just long enough.
“We wanted to come back and win a championship,” Cook said. “It’s awesome, man.”
Michigan State earned its second conference title in three years, will chase its first national championship since splitting the title with Notre Dame in 1966. The Spartans need two more wins to earn the school’s first uncontested national title since 1952.
Iowa lost for the first time with C.J. Beathard as its starting quarterback.
Most expected the Big Ten champion to come out of the November showdown between Michigan State and defending national champion Ohio State in Columbus. As it turned out, the win served as the tiebreaker for a pair of one-loss teams and sent the Spartans back to Indy for the third time in five years.
For all of the talk about the league’s two best quarterbacks going head-to-head and the proficient offenses, this game had a decidedly old-school flavor.
Scott ran 22 times for 73 yards against a stingy defense that stopped Michigan State on four consecutive snaps inside the Iowa 5 in the final two minutes.
It looked like the Hawkeyes had him stopped again, but Scott refused to go down.
“We live for moments like this,” he said
Beathard finished 18 of 26 with 216 yards, one interception and an 85-yard TD pass to Tevaun Smith on the first play of the fourth quarter to give Iowa a 13-9 lead.
That’s how it stayed until Scott’s score.
Michigan State recovered a fumble on the game’s third play and converted it into a 23-yard field goal.
Iowa tied it with a 24-yard field goal that was set up by Josey Jewell’s interception, putting the ball at the Spartans 20.
The Hawkeyes made it 6-3 on Marshall Koehn’s 43-yard field goal early in the second quarter and had a chance to extend the lead after driving to the Michigan State 5-yard line. But George Kittle couldn’t catch Beathard’s third down pass in the end zone, the loose ball landed on Riley Bullough’s back and cornerback Demetrious Cox scooped it up for the interception.
Michigan State had two chances to tie the score, but Michael Geiger missed one 52-yarder to the left and his second 52-yard attempt when it hit the front of the crossbar and bounced harmlessly into the end zone as the half ended.
It was the fewest points scored in a first half all season for each team – and it marked the first time in the five-year title game that neither team scored a touchdown in the first half.
Michigan State finally tied it on Geiger’s 29-yard field goal late in the third quarter and then regained the lead on a 47-yard field goal in the final minute of the third quarter.
Two plays later, Beathard gave Iowa the lead.
But the Hawkeyes couldn’t hang on.
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