Posted by Adam Jacobi
In the first-ever Big Ten Championship Game, Wisconsin won a slugfest with Michigan State, 42-39. The game lived up to the expectations set by the two teams' first meeting -- a 37-31 Spartan victory that was won on a last-second Hail Mary -- and although this contest didn't come down to a score on the final play of the game, it hardly lacked for excitement.
Wisconsin struck first and struck hard in the first quarter, featuring a punishing rushing attack that had Montee Ball rush for 105 yards and two scores in the opening frame. That quarter ended with Wisconsin up 21-7 and MSU facing a 4th and 1 on its own 30 yard line, and the Badgers looked like the more capable of the two teams.
Michigan State started that second quarter off with a bang, however, scoring on a 30-yard strike from Kirk Cousins to B.J. Cunningham off a fake pitch. The Spartan defense stiffened considerably after that, holding Wisconsin without a first down and to -4 yards of total offense in that quarter. Meanwhile, Kirk Cousins came alive, going 12-14 for two scores and 137 yards in the quarter, leading Michigan State to 22 straight points and 208 yards of its own. All of a sudden, the 21-7 Badger lead had turned into a 29-21 Spartan advantage, and even that could have been worse; Dan Conroy missed a long field goal for MSU at the end of the half. That missed kick would loom large later.
After the half, Wisconsin answered with a 42-yard score from Wilson to Jared Abbrederis, and the Badgers were within a point. Cousins responded with his third touchdown pass to Cunningham on the night, and momentum was back on the side of Sparty. MSU had held Ball to 10 yards in the second and third quarters combined, and Ball was bottled up on the ensuing drive. But instead, Russell Wilson began to shine, going 5-5 for 43 yards and a touchdown that put the Badgers in position to tie the game. Alas, Wilson's two-point conversion was dropped, and MSU held a 36-34 lead.
The Spartans would add a field goal midway through the fourth quarter to push the lead to 39-34, and while that gave them considerable breathing room, it also left the door open for the Badgers to make a push toward the lead. And push the Badgers did, with Russell Wilson heaving a deep throw to Jeff Duckworth on 4th and 6, and Duckworth making a fantastic leaping catch to keep the Badgers' hopes alive. Ball waltzed in on the very next play, and after a 2-point conversion, Wisconsin retook the lead with 3:45 left on the clock.
Michigan State's offensed proceeded to sputter, but Keshawn Martin made a highlight-reel catch to keep the drive alive on 3rd and long. Unfortunately for Martin, his foot was judged to be out of bounds on replay, and the Spartans punted the ball away with under three minutes left. They would force a three-and-out, but Isaiah Lewis ran into Brad Nortman on the ensuing punt -- one that was returned inside Wisconsin's 5-yard line by Martin -- and as the penalty gave Wisconsin the first down, the Spartans would not see the ball again.
For Wisconsin, the victory means a second straight trip to the Rose Bowl and a likely Top 10 ranking -- its first since Keith Nichol broke the Badgers' hearts with his catch at the goal line back on October 8. For Michigan State, there will be no shortage of regret, no paucity of wishing that just one or two things had not gone wrong in those final minutes.