Photo courtesy of Michigan State athletics
College football has seen some great comebacks in its history.
When it comes to major college football however, there has never been a bigger comeback than the one that took place on this day 15 years ago. Michigan State rallied from 35 points down for a stunning 41-38 road victory over Northwestern.
Setting the Stage
A season that had began with so much promise was spiraling out of control for Michigan State as it arrived at Ryan Field in Evanston on Oct. 21, 2006. After a 3-0 start, the Spartans had lost four straight games and were well on their way to a fifth straight loss.
Northwestern was also riding a 4-game losing streak and came in with a record of 2-5. The Wildcats weren’t known for their ability to score, but through two and a half quarters, they had their way.
The second half was barely five minutes old when CJ Bachr’s second touchdown pass of the third quarter gave Northwestern a commanding 38-3 advantage. Northwestern seemingly had victory wrapped up, but Michigan State refused to roll over.
Those two touchdowns were answered before the third quarter was over. Drew Stanton connected with Jehuu Caulcrick on an 18-yard touchdown pass before A.J. Jimmerson rushed for a 4-yard score. The lead was down to 21 after three quarters.
The fourth quarter was less than four minutes old when a blocked punt and a lateral led to a Ashton Henderson touchdown. With the score now 38-24, Michigan State was as close as it had been since the middle parts of the second quarter.
In the final quarter, the Wildcats managed just 15 yards on 10 plays, three punts, one turnover and no first downs. After Stanton’s 12-yard touchdown run cut the lead to seven, his 9-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Williams drew the Spartans even with less than four minutes to play.
With the score now 38-38, the next drive lasted just one play as Bachr was picked off by Michigan State’s Travis Key. Key returned the pick to the Northwestern 30-yard-line.
Michigan State was able to milk the clock. With just 13 seconds to play, Brett Swenson connected on a 28-yard field goal to give Michigan State its first lead since it was 3-0. Ultimately, that was the difference in a 41-38 victory.
Prior to Michigan State scoring the game’s final 38 points, it was Northwestern who scored 38 straight. After Swenson’s opening-drive field goal, Bachr connected with Ross Lane for a touchdown before scoring on a keeper early in the second quarter.
Northwestern kicker Joel Howells connected on his only field goal of the day to make it 17-3. A trick play in which Brandon Roberson found Shaun Herbert for a touchdown gave the Wildcats a 24-3 lead at the break.
Over the first 5:06 of the second half, both Lane and Herbert caught touchdowns from Bachr.
Although the comeback victory was historic in nature, it didn’t change the course of Michigan State’s season. The Spartans dropped their final four games to finish 4-8.
After starting 2-7, Northwestern actually won two of its final three games to also finish 4-8. The year may have ended on a high note, but the Wildcats still hold the record for the largest blown lead in FBS history. It happened on this day 15 years ago.