In the first half of the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in Tempe, Arizona that took place on Saturday night, it looked as if Michigan State would fall to a quick and decisive loss once again to cap off the lackluster season.
Down 13-0 to the TCU Horned Frogs by the close of the first half, the Michigan State offense looked as it had all year: Sluggish, uninspired, and outmatched. Star running back Le’Veon Bell had less than 40 yards on the ground, just over three yards per carry, and unable to find a hole to break free for a decent gain.
Things looked bleak. At just 6-6 in the regular season, a loss in the bowl would drop the Spartans below .500 overall and certainly cement issues that have dogged the team’s core all season. But, with a win, they could at least look to 2013 with a winning record and back-to-back bowl victories.
So then, it happened: The Spartans and RB Bell came out of halftime with a renewed focus. The MSU defense began to look like the squad that was the top group in the Big Ten Conference once more; Bell was earning yards after contact; the offense began to churn out plays. Could it actually be that things were turning around for the boys in Green and White?
It was, and at that point, it was all Le’Veon Bell.
Gaining 145 yards on 32 rushes, Bell accounted for all of the Spartans’ total offensive output on the ground save for just 53 yards, including a 29-yard completion on a trick play. It’s no secret that Le’Veon put in his draft papers to see where he might end up if taken in the 2013 NFL Draft, so if it had to be Bell’s last game as a Spartan, he was sure to make it a memorable one.
Who knows what head coach Mark Dantonio said during halftime in the locker room to his players, but whatever he said, had worked.
“I continue to say it all along, we have great chemistry on our football team, great leadership at the ground level, which to me is the players’ level,” Dantonio said. “We pushed through the tough times.”
All of the incredible second-half heroics by the MSU defense and top running back finally put the game within reach for the Spartans. Down 16-14 with just 1:01 left in the game clock, Dantonio decided to once again put his faith upon the oft-questionable boot of veteran kicker, Dan Conroy.
Conroy had missed a number of close and crucial field goals in the regular season, and putting the outcome of the bowl game onto the senior’s shoulders for a final time seemed almost suicidal… almost. Michigan State lined up for the 47-yard field goal attempt and with the kick, Conroy found immediate redemption as he watched the football sail through the uprights to give his team a 17-16 lead with less than a minute left. All those earlier incredibly-close losses, all those heartbreakers that had hushed the crowd months prior; all those maddening frustrations… vanquished.
“With so many close games,” Conroy said, “losing like we did so many games in this season, to have one go our way this way was definitely exciting.”
Dantonio took the risk and it finally, at long last, paid off. He knew what his players were capable of and knew what he could expect from them–and they did not disappoint. No one was happier for Dan Conroy than Le’Veon Bell, who with the successful kick and win, may have ended a record-breaking career with the Spartans in a winning fashion.
“He’s a clutch player and he came through in the clutch for us,” said Le’Veon Bell of the kicker.
The questions and focus now turn back to Le’Veon Bell and his plans for the future: Will he forgo his senior year to enter the 2013 NFL Draft early? Should he return to help boost his numbers and play for what many would hope to be a “much-improved” Spartans team?
Now… we wait.
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