INDIANAPOLIS -- Go ahead and call it Hail Mary II.
Saturday night’s rematch between Michigan State and Wisconsin didn’t end on a touchdown as time expired like last time, but the Badgers pulled off the 42-39 win in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game because of a prayer.
Trailing 39-34 late in the fourth quarter, Russell Wilson was flushed out of the pocket on 4th-and-6 with no one open. He went through his progressions and at the last second did the only thing he could do, throw it up and hope his receiver could pull it down.
And that’s exactly what happened.
Seldom used sophomore wide receiver Jeff Duckworth jumped as high as he could with two Spartans next to him and pulled down the 36-yard toss to give the Badgers a 1st-and-goal at the seven yard line. On the next play, running back Montee Ball scored the game-winning touchdown – his 38th touchdown of the season.
"I thought I could run it possibly, and then they closed on me pretty quickly, so the only thing I thought I could do was (throw it up)," Wilson, who was named the game’s MVP, said. "I knew Duckworth was going to the back corner and I had to give him a shot."
It was a crazy play in an absolutely ridiculous football game between the Big Ten’s two best teams. But it’s plays like that that are becoming the norm when these two teams meet.
Earlier this season, Michigan State beat the Badgers in East Lansing on a Hail Mary as time expired. This time those fortunes were reversed in a game that was just as exciting, if not more.
The Big Ten’s only problem now is topping Saturday’s thriller in future Big Ten Championship Games.
A total of 81 points were scored as the two teams combined for 814 total yards. Just take a look at these scoring plays:
A 42-yard pass from Wilson to Jared Abbrederis on 3rd-and-17.
A 44-yard pass from Cousins to Cunningham on 3rd-and-6.
And there was also the touchdown where Michigan State wide receiver Keith Nichol caught it and lateraled the ball to B.J. Cunninngham as he was getting pushed out of bounds. Cunningham took it the rest of the way for the score.
And then there was the 32-yard pass that Ball threw to Wilson, instead of the other way around.
Yes, there was absolutely no shortage of excitement Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium as 64,152 fans looked on.
That’s why the ending was somewhat disappointing.
After Michigan State forced a punt with less than two minutes remaining, safety Isaiah Lewis – who is from Indianapolis – ran into Wisconsin punter Brad Nortman and was called for a five-yard penalty, which gave the Badgers a first down. Nortman appeared to flop to sell the call, but Lewis did make contact, which by rule is a penalty. To make matters worse for Michigan State, Keshawn Martin returned the punt all the way to the three yard-line.
As Nortman came into the locker room after the game, one of his teammates jokingly yelled out, "Faker!"
"I think that’s kind of a bold accusation," Nortman said with a smile. "I was touched, certainly, but it doesn’t hurt to put a little extra on it. If that wasn’t called, I’d be surprised."
With the first down, the Badgers were able to kneel and run out the clock, spoiling what could have been a thrilling ending to a thrilling game.
That said, what more could you ask for from the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game? It will likely go down as the best game of the season, just barely topping the first game played between these two teams.
For the Badgers, they’ll head to the Rose Bowl for the second straight season, despite losing to Michigan State during the regular season each of the last two years. The Oregon Ducks await in Pasadena.
For the Spartans, they’ll have to regroup with a likely trip to the Outback Bowl, a tough consolation prize that doesn’t do justice to the type of effort they displayed Saturday night.
It’s just too bad the two teams can’t play each other in a bowl game to decide the rubber match.
Heisman for Ball?
Saturday’s big stage gave Wisconsin running back Montee Ball a chance to prove his candidacy for the Heisman Trophy and he didn’t disappoint.
Ball ran for 137 yards and three touchdowns, while also catching a touchdown to up his season total to 38. That puts him only one touchdown behind Barry Sanders who set the NCAA record with 39 in 1988.
The Wisconsin running back had a great game, but he likely failed to put the exclamation point on his Heisman candidacy. Ball ran for 105 of his yards in a dominating first quarter, but was then held to just 32 the rest of the way.
He’s a very modest kid so when asked about his Heisman chances after the game, Ball said he was more worried about the Rose Bowl. That’s when safety Aaron Henry cut him off.
"He is a Heisman candidate no matter how you look at it," Henry said. "I mean, he should be going (to New York), pretty much. I don’t know if he should win it or not. We’ve got some great finalists, but this guy’s one of the best backs in the country, hands down."
Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema took it a step further.
"For him to score four touchdowns tonight again against one of the best defenses that we’ve faced all year, his numbers are outstanding, especially against the type of defenses that we’ve been facing," Bielema said. "For him to have that productivity and to be one touchdown away from now tying the guy that won the Heisman Trophy the year that he did it and all that goes into it, he is a very deserving candidate for New York, and in my opinion, should win it."
After the game, Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson said his nose might be broken after he took a facemask in the middle of his 42-yard touchdown strike to Jared Abbrederis.
Wilson shook off the facemask during the play and was able to hit a wide open Abbrederis in the end zone. The nose was quite swollen after the game.