Sunday, September 19, 2010
'Little Giants' comes through for Spartans
By Adam Rittenberg
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio calls the play "Little Giants," after the cheesy flick about pee wee football starring Rick Moranis and Ed O'Neill.
"He names just about all of our plays after that movie," Spartans punter Aaron Bates told ESPN.com. "I think it's about the only one he's watched."
Dantonio might have seen "The Gambler" a few times, too.
The Spartans' boss let it ride in a big way Saturday night against Notre Dame, and he hit the jackpot in overtime. Down 31-28 and needing a 46-yard field goal to tie, Dantonio, not known for his risk-taking, called for a fake the team had worked on all week in practice.
Charlie Gantt heads to the end zone for the game-winning score Saturday night.
Michigan State executed it to perfection, as Bates passed the ball to tight end Charlie Gantt for a 29-yard touchdown, lifting the Spartans to a 34-31 victory.
"Coach D really wanted to call it," Bates said. "They were giving us the right looks, and we just happened to get the opportunity in overtime. Coach D's got a lot of guts to make that call.
"Coach D always says, especially in big games, 'We're playing to win.'"
Bates initially looked for top target Le'Veon Bell, who had been open all week in practice. Notre Dame blanketed Bell, but Gantt slipped behind a fallen Irish defender, and Bates, who doubled as a quarterback in high school, made the throw.
"It was just like the glory days," said Bates, the first punter in team history to be named a captain. "I guess Notre Dame's a little better opponent than I was playing back [in high school], but when you catch them off guard like that, it's not too difficult. Easy throw and catch for a touchdown."
The play wasn't free of controversy, as replays and photos showed the play clock hitting zero before the snap. Nearly nine years after The Clock Game between Michigan State and Michigan, time(keeping) once again was of the essence at Spartan Stadium.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly didn't see the play clock, but Bates had a good view from the field.
"I looked up and saw it was 3 [seconds] and just gave my long-snapper a little motion," Bates said. "The last I saw, it was at 3 [seconds], and he snapped it right after that. I assume we still had a second left or so, but it doesn't matter now."
All that matters is Michigan State remains undefeated and within striking distance of the Big Ten's elite. Michigan State was just 6-12 under Dantonio in games decided by eight points or fewer until Saturday night, including a 2-5 mark last fall.
"It comes with experience," Bates said. "When you have experience, you win those close games. It's something we didn't have last year. This year, we have that."