Spartans Are Bowl Bound

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- Michigan State expects to be in a bowl game for the first time since 2003 after its come-from-behind victory Saturday over Penn State.
Jehuu Caulcrick's 1-yard touchdown plunge with just more than 4 minutes remaining capped a wild 35-31 win for the Spartans, who likely will be headed to Tempe, Ariz. for the Insight Bowl or Detroit for the Motor City Bowl.
It's a huge boost for the Spartans (7-5, 3-5 Big Ten) under first-year coach Mark Dantonio.
"I guess that's why they call it emotion. I can't express it," Dantonio said after Saturday's win in the regular season finale.
"We said early in the year we wanted to be a better team at the end of the year than we were at the beginning," Dantonio said. "I think we are."
Penn State (8-4, 4-4) -- which lost a 17-point second-half lead -- also will be bowl bound for the 34th time under coach Joe Paterno.
Michigan State quarterback Brian Hoyer was 16-of-21 for 257 yards and four TDs, including three to receiver Devin Thomas. Hoyer also threw two interceptions.
Caulcrick had 99 yards on 22 carries. Perhaps his biggest carry came on a fake punt with the Spartans trailing and facing a 4th-and-5 on their own 25 with 8:26 remaining. He tried to go right, ran into traffic, and bounced left for 17 yards and a critical first down.
"It didn't work out as we planned it, but guys stuck to their blocks and kept fighting and something good happened," Caulcrick said.
Dantonio said the determined look in Caulcrick's eyes helped convince him to make the fourth-down gamble.
"You have to take great risks sometimes for great rewards," Dantonio said.
Thomas caught seven passes for 139 yards. He set Michigan State's record for catches in a single season with 75. The previous record was 68 set by Charles Rogers in 2002.
Rodney Kinlaw rushed for 125 yards and two scores on 28 carries for Penn State. Quarterback Anthony Morelli completed 16 of 35 passes for 188 yards and a touchdown.
Penn State went ahead 24-7 early in the third quarter on a fake field goal, with kicker Kevin Kelly scrambling untouched into the endzone for a 5-yard TD run.
Michigan State cut the lead to 24-21 on a pair of Hoyer touchdown passes -- 3 yards to fullback Jeff McPherson, and 33 yards to Thomas.
But Penn State responded early in the fourth quarter with Kinlaw's 4-yard touchdown run. That made it 31-21.
Hoyer connected with Thomas for a 26-yard TD strike to cut the lead to 31-28 with 11 minutes remaining.
Caulcrick's run gave Michigan State the lead for good.
Penn State had a chance to take the lead with about 1:30 remaining, but Morelli's desperation fourth down pass sailed over receiver Deon Butler's head in the end zone.
The 80-year-old Paterno has 371 career wins -- two behind Florida State's Bobby Bowden for most victories among major college coaches. Paterno's contract expires at the end of the 2008 season and he has said he hasn't given much thought to whether he plans to coach beyond that.
He didn't say much about it after Saturday's game, either. Asked about his future and possible fatigue, Paterno used one of his standard answers.
"I'm OK. I'm too dumb to be tired," Paterno said.
Paterno is 11-5 in his career against Michigan State.
Penn State's defense played without defensive tackle Chris Baker, backup linebacker Navorro Bowman and backup cornerback Knowledge Timmons. The school said they would not play because of legal issues related to a campus fight last month.
The Nittany Lion defense was solid early. But Michigan State made plays late in the game when stakes were highest.
"That's a high-powered offense, one of the best in the Big Ten," said Penn State linebacker Dan Connor, who finished with a game-high 13 tackles. "They always have the ability to hurt you."
Said Paterno: "You've got to give Michigan State credit. It's not always that a team loses the game. Sometimes a team wins it."
Michigan State's 22 seniors, playing in their final home game Saturday, have never been to a bowl.
The Big Ten has 10 bowl-eligible teams and partnerships with just seven games. Eight teams, including Michigan State, have at least seven wins. But the Spartans beat Purdue and Indiana, the other two Big Ten teams with seven wins.
Penn State may be headed to either the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio or the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, Fla.


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