2010 has been a magical season for the Michigan State Spartans football team. There were trick plays, comebacks and even a heart attack en route to an 11-1 finish and the Spartans' first Big Ten championship since 1990. Throughout the year there have been some exciting games and some even more exciting moments, and this week's Top Five counts down the best plays of the season for Michigan State.
No. 5: Keshawn Martin's punt return touchdown against Wisconsin
Michigan State handed Wisconsin its only loss this season, winning 34-24 back on Oct. 2. Although the Spartans dominated this game statistically (not counting turnovers), playing a solid game both offensively and defensively, it was a play on special teams that sparked MSU to victory. In the second quarter, with MSU trailing 10-6, Keshawn Martin electrified the Spartan Stadium crowd by taking a Wisconsin punt back 74 yards for a touchdown. The play put MSU on top by a score of 13-10 and the Spartans never trailed again during this game, eventually winning to improve to 5-0 on the season.
No. 4: Denicos Allen's blocked punt against Purdue
With 11 minutes to play against Purdue back on Nov. 20, Michigan State was trailing by 15 points. A Kirk Cousins touchdown pass to B.J. Cunningham cut the lead down to eight points, but Purdue answered with a 52-yard field goal to make it a two-possession game once again. The Spartans answered back with a touchdown and two-point conversion to cut the lead down to a field goal with less than seven minutes to play. On the next Purdue possession, the Spartans' defense made a stop and Denicos Allen made the play of the game, blocking the Boilermakers' punt. Johnny Adams fell on the ball at the three-yard line and two plays later Kirk Cousins ran into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown. Chris Norman picked off Purdue's Rob Henry on the ensuing drive, sealing the 35-31 comeback victory for the Spartans.
No. 3: "Mouse Trap" against Northwestern
In another game that produced a comeback victory for MSU, the Spartans were trailing Northwestern on Oct. 23 by 10 points early on in the fourth quarter. Facing 4th and 6 at the Northwestern 31-yard line, Mark Dantonio called a timeout to discuss whether or not the Spartans should go for it, kick a field goal or punt. Coming out of the timeout, MSU took a delay of game penalty on purpose, indicating that a punt was in order. Aaron Bates came out onto the field in punt formation, but when he got the ball there was no punt, but rather a pass downfield to Bennie Fowler. Fowler made the catch for a gain of 21 yards, moving the chains and keeping the drive alive on a play Dantonio later said was named "Mouse Trap" because the Wildcats took the cheese (the timeout).
On the very next play following the fake punt, Kirk Cousins completed a 15-yard pass to Mark Dell for a touchdown. Northwestern kicked a field goal on its next drive, and after the two teams traded punts, Cousins led Michigan State down the field for an 11-play, 88-yard touchdown drive that was capped off by a circus catch made by B.J. Cunningham. The TD put MSU on top by a point, and after Northwestern turned the ball over on downs, Edwin Baker put the exclamation point on the comeback sparked by "Mouse Trap," running 25 yards for a touchdown. The Spartans won the game, 35-27.
No. 2: "Little Giants" against Notre Dame
After holding Notre Dame to a field goal in the first part of overtime at Spartan Stadium back on Sept. 18, Michigan State had a chance to win the game with a touchdown. Problem was Notre Dame's Darius Fleming sacked Kirk Cousins on 3rd and 5, backing up the Spartans to the 29-yard line. Now MSU needed a 46-yard field goal by sophomore Dan Conroy to extend the game to a second overtime. The game was riding on Conroy's leg, or so it appeared.
As it turns out, the game was actually riding on holder Aaron Bates' arm. He got the snap and did not put the ball down for Conroy to kick. Instead he got up and waited for a receiver to get open because it was a fake. After running back Le'Veon Bell went crashing through two Notre Dame defenders, tight end Charlie Gantt was suddenly all by himself. Bates stepped up and delivered a perfect pass to Gantt for a 29-yard touchdown, giving the Spartans an unbelievable 34-31 victory. Announcer Brad Nessler proclaimed it the call of the year and he was right. There was no better call this season in college football than Mark Dantonio deciding to run "Little Giants" in overtime against Notre Dame for the win.
No. 1: Kirk Cousins' kneel down against Penn State
On Nov. 27, 2006, Mark Dantonio was introduced as Michigan State's head football coach. During his introductory press conference, this was one of the things he said:
My vision here is to win championships. That's my vision. That was my vision when we went to the University of Cincinnati. I'd like to think that we left the University of Cincinnati a better place than when we got there.
Our vision when we went to Ohio State was to win championships. Our vision when we were here at Michigan State the first time was to win the championship. I believe that can happen here. I believe the resources are here to do that.
Four years later to the day, Mark Dantonio's vision was realized when Kirk Cousins took a knee and ran out the clock, beating Penn State in Happy Valley and clinching Michigan State's first Big Ten title in 20 years. It obviously wasn't the flashiest play or the most important play of the season, but it was the payoff of four years of hard work by Dantonio and his assistants, who built this program from the very start with the goal of winning championships. This past Saturday, Cousins' kneel down sealed the Spartans' victory and sealed Dantonio's goal of winning a Big Ten title, which is why it is ranked as MSU's best play of the 2010 season.