Regardless of geographic alliance we all remember the first time we had a sports team give us a punch in the stomach. For me that moment is easy, it was January 3rd, 1999. The San Francisco 49ers beat the Green Bay Packers in the Wild Card round of the playoffs after a Jerry Rice fumble was egregiously missed by the referee. Four plays later Terrell Owens would catch a Steve Young pass over the middle and score with seconds left beating the Packers 30-27. Little did I know Brett Favre would go on to provide me with a myriad of these, ‘the game is going our way, we just need our quarterback not to louse this one up’ punch in the stomach moments. But it is not just the Pack. It is Glen Robinson missing a 12 footer (a shot he had not missed all season) that would have sent the Bucks to the Finals, or the Brewers from the year 1983-2007, being a Wisconsin sports fan you become used to these types of things happening… but it does not make it any easier. Enter Saturday night.
The Wisconsin Badgers went into a hostile East Lansing as the #4 team in the country (#6 in the BCS) to play B1G rivals #13 Michigan State. The Badgers were off to a hot start as Russell Wilson and Montee Ball controlled the pace the whole first quarter spotting the Badgers to a 14-0 lead after the first 15. Then the wheels began to fall off. There was an intentional grounding call that was ruled a safety, a blocked field goal, and a blocked punt for a touchdown capping a second quarter in which Sparty ended up scoring 23 unanswered points to take it to 23-14 at half time.
Early into the fourth quarter with the Badgers down 31-17 Russell Wilson would craft a near flawless drive in which he would scramble for a 22 yard touchdown. The Badgers then stopped Sparty and Wilson put together another scoring drive that was finished this time by a 9-yard scamper for Montee Ball tying the game at 31’s. Last week in my preview for this game I not only advised staying away from the line but I also foolishly said that ‘Kirk Cousins would be a wild card in the game’. As soon Michigan State kept dinking and dunking its way down the field with virtually not time left I had regretted putting that thought in print.
With four seconds left the Spartans opted not to kick what would have been a 61 yard field goal attempt and would run one last play. I had thought the game was going to overtime. I mean, how can you not defend against a Hail Mary? It is easy, it is a play that is more telegraphed and predictable than the jokes on The Big Bang Theory. Cousins rolls right, heaves it downfield. Everything seemed to be going right, the play was well defended… but then the ball caroms off BJ Cunningham’s facemask right into the waiting arms of Keith Nichols. Nichols proceeded to force his will over two Badger defenders to break the plane of the goal line. Although he was originally ruled down, the play would go to review and most Badger fans knew what the outcome of the replay would be. A 44-yards punch in the stomach. With the win 37-31 Michigan State moves to 6-1 on the year and 3-0 in the B1G.
Wisconsin drops to 6-1, but most importantly 2-1 in conference play sitting behind Penn State in the Leaders division. If I were a gambling man, I would bet strongly that Saturday was not the last time these two teams meet this season as I can see both contending for a B1G title. Attempting to get back to their winning ways, the Badgers have a nice recovery game Saturday night against 4-3 (1-2) THE Ohio State University.