There may never be a crazier conclusion in the heated rivalry between Michigan and Michigan State than what unfolded Saturday at the Big House, but these two teams are no strangers to dramatic finishes and controversy.
Three of their last 12 meetings have gone to overtime, and only one of those was able to crack our countdown of the five most memorable or heartbreaking (depending on what colors you wear) games in the last 25 years of this series.
No. 5: 2012: Michigan 12, Michigan State 10
It’s hard to think of a game with only one touchdown as exciting, but this one had plenty of drama. After Michigan State took a 10-9 lead with a fourth-quarter field goal set up by a fake punt, Wolverines quarterback Denard Robinson drove his team into position for a last-gasp effort. Robinson completed a 20-yard pass to Drew Dileo, then shielded his eyes as Brendan Gibbons connected on a 38-yard field goal (his fourth of the game) on the final play from scrimmage.
Gibbons’ kick snapped a four-game losing streak to the Spartans, and gave Michigan it’s 900th win as a program.
No. 4: 2004: Michigan 45, Michigan State 37 (3OT)
The Wolverines trailed by 17 points with under seven minutes left in the game when NFL first-rounder Braylon Edwards took over. He outjumped Michigan State cornerback Jaren Hayes for touchdown passes twice in a three-minute span. The second catch sent the game to overtime, where it remained tied for two more series.
Edwards returned to the spotlight in the third OT when he sliced through the Spartan defense for a 24-yard score on third down. He finished the game with 11 catches for 189 yards and helped the 12th-ranked Wolverines survive a potential upset.
No. 3: 1990: Michigan State 28, Michigan 27
In the week leading up to the game, Michigan students wore shirts that said “No. One vs. No One.” The Wolverines were the top-ranked team in the country. The Spartans had one win in their first four games, but a late score from running back Tico Duckett gave them a lead in the fourth quarter.
Michigan quarterback Elvis Grbac responded with a touchdown pass with six seconds remaining. In the days before overtime, head coach Gary Moeller opted to run a two-point conversion play for the win. He isolated Desmond Howard on one side of the field and had him run a slant. Howard got tangled with cornerback Eddie Brown and tripped as Grbac’s pass reached him. The ball hit the turf. Moeller said the Big Ten head of officials called him the following week to apologize for missing a pass interference call on the play.
No. 2: 2001: Michigan State 26, Michigan 24
The game will forever be remembered as “clockgate.” No. 6 Michigan took a 24-20 lead in the fourth quarter, but left time for a final Michigan State drive. Quarterback Jeff Smoker drove his unranked Spartans down to the 3-yard line, and then things got interesting.
Smoker’s scramble on second down came up a yard short of the end zone. He hit the ground with 12 seconds left on the clock and immediately popped back up to gather his offense and spike the ball. The scoreboard time at Spartan Stadium crawled through the final seconds. Smoker spiked the ball with one second remaining. Should the clock have hit zero before he finished the play? Michigan’s radio crew certainly thought so. The referees didn’t, and Smoker hit T.J. Duckett in the end zone for a game-winning score on the final play.
No. 1: 2015: Michigan State 27, Michigan 23
Mark Dantonio said he’s still taking suggestions for a moniker to go with this win. Redshirt freshman Jalen Watts-Jackson scooped up a fumbled punt attempt on the final play of the game and ran 38 yards for the most memorable touchdown ever scored in this storied rivalry.
Ironically, Michigan built a 23-20 lead largely thanks to its dominance on special teams in the first 59 minutes of the game. The last play reversed that and preserved an undefeated start to the season for the No. 7 Spartans.