Through twists and turns, the Spartans and Georgia Bulldogs played keep-away with the game’s momentum. Through three tension-filled overtimes, they competed furiously.
The outcome was decided with a sudden thud.
Georgia place-kicker Blair Walsh attempted a 47-yard field goal that would have forced a fourth overtime, but it was blocked by Anthony Rashad White and the Spartans had a monumental 33-30 victory before an announced crowd of 49,429 at Raymond James Stadium.
For No. 12-ranked Michigan State (11-3), which rallied from a 16-point halftime deficit, it was a fitting finale.
As Spartan players spilled onto the field, senior quarterback Kirk Cousins and Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio smiled at each other and hugged. No words were spoken. No words were needed.
“Utter joy,” said Cousins, a lightly recruited player who committed to Dantonio in 2007, when the Spartans were coming off a 4-8 season. “Our senior class has been able to build this up from irrelevance to hopefully a top-10 ranking. It was the right way to go out.”
For No. 18 Georgia (10-4), which finished on a two-game losing streak after winning 10 straight games, it was a heartbreaking ending. Walsh, who became the SEC’s all-time leading scorer, could have won it in the first overtime, but his 42-yard field goal attempt was wide right.
“Right this minute, we’re definitely not too thrilled,” Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said. “In time, this one will heal. ... Ten wins was great. Eleven would have been better. ... I still think our guys had a good year, not a great year.”
It took a great performance by Michigan State to prevent that.
Officially, it was Conroy who won it on a 28-yard field goal to open the third overtime. But Walsh’s first-OT miss and the game-clinching block will linger in everyone’s mind.
“As good as I feel for us, I feel terrible for Blair,” Conroy said. “As a kicker, you understand how that would feel.”
“I’d trade whatever record I got (SEC’s all-time leading scorer) to have the field goal that won this game,” Walsh said. “I know you can’t put everything on one play — a whole lot happened today — but I didn’t come through in the clutch. That hurts. If you’re with Georgia, you’re hurting.”
If you’re with Michigan State, you’re jubilant.
“I don’t even know how to describe it,” Cousins said. “We made one more play than they did, I guess. It was that close. Incredible!”
And oh so sweet.