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EAST LANSING — It lived up to every bit of the hype that started building a month ago.
In the end, Michigan State football kicked its unbeaten euphoria up a notch with a dramatic comeback against its biggest rival. And Mel Tucker made more history against Michigan.
Kenneth Walker III added to his Heisman Trophy resume with five touchdowns, including a 23-yarder with 5:08 to play to help the No. 7 Spartans rally from a 16-point, second-half hole and defeat the No. 6 Wolverines, 37-33, in an epic battle Saturday at Spartan Stadium.
Walker finished with 197 yards on 23 carries. The junior transfer from Wake Forest’s five rushing TDs tied Javon Ringer (2008 vs. Eastern Michigan) for the second-most in school history and the most by a Spartan against Michigan. Walker also became MSU’s first 1,000-yard rusher in a season since Jeremy Langford did it in 2013 and ’14.
The Spartans (8-0, 5-0 Big Ten) travel to Purdue next weekend. It is their best start since 2015.
The Wolverines (7-1, 5-1) had two chances to reclaim the lead in the final minutes, but they turned the ball over on downs on one and freshman cornerback Chuck Brantley sealed the win for MSU with an interception with a minute to play to start the bedlam in the stands.
Walker’s 1-yard score late in the third quarter, set up by a desperation fourth-and-4 bomb from quarterback Payton Thorne to Jayden Reed and followed by Thorne’s 2-point pass to Tre Mosley, pulled the Spartans back within 30-22.
Following a defensive stop, Walker burst for a 58-yard score past Michigan’s secondary. The two-point pass from Thorne to Jayden Reed tied it up.
A Cade McNamara fumble with 7:12 to play in MSU territory, recovered by Jacub Panasiuk, set up Walker’s final score. He slithered through a tiny hole and slipped a tackle to give the Spartans their 10th win in the last 14 meetings.
MSU overcame third-down issues on defense, allowing 8 of 17 conversions, and 383 yards and two touchdowns from McNamara. But the Spartans swarmed the Wolverines late and stormed the field as time expired.
It was a Halloween weekend homecoming for Michigan’s Andrel Anthony, a freshman and three-star prospect from the 2021 recruiting class who opted to head south instead of joining the Spartans.
Thorne was intercepted to end MSU’s first drive after moving the ball on the first five plays of the game, but his pick pinned the Wolverines at their own 2. But the Spartans’ defense failed again to get off the field on third-and-3, with Anthony zooming away from MSU’s safeties and racing 93 yards to get U-M on the board less than 4 minutes into the game.
The Wolverines made it 10-0 on the first of three Jake Moody field goals in the first half, taking advantage of Thorne’s second interception of the half and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on MSU left tackle Jarrett Horst after the pick.
As things teetered, Thorne did not get rattled. He complete three straight passes for 40 yards combined to open the next drive, then another to Connor Heyward on the final play of the first quarter.
When play resumed, Walker appeared to be stopped in the middle, then bounced around a Heyward block to the left side and dashed for a 27-yard touchdown run to revive the Spartans. MSU’s defense then held Michigan to a Moody field goal on another visit to the red zone.
Walker ripped off an 18-yard run on the first play of MSU’s next drive, but MSU appeared to stall at midfield when Thorne went out of bounds short of the sticks on a third-and-1 read-option keeper.
The Spartans went for it on fourth down, with Jayden Reed going in motion, Thorne faking a handoff to walker and Jalen Nailor slipping behind the defense after releasing on a block. The quarterback, with Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson in his face, hit Nailor for 40 yards and MSU hurried at a breakneck tempo to the line and quick-snapped to get Walker around the right side for an 8-yard score as the Wolverines tried to change personnel. That gave the Spartans their only lead of the half, 14-13.
It lasted just 3:25, with another third-and-long conversion from McNamara to tight end Luke Schoonmaker keeping a drive alive and a 24-yard bowling ball burst by Haskins moving Michigan quickly into the red zone again. This time, the Wolverines capitalized as backup quarterback J.J. McCarthy rolled right and sent a high spiral to Anthony over coverage from Chester Kimbrough for the U-M rookie’s second score.
After having a fumble recovery in the end zone overturned, with Thorne being ruled down, Michigan added a Moody 35-yard field goal with two seconds left to carry a 23-14 lead into halftime.
The Wolverines continued to attack the Spartans’ defense, with McCarthy and McNamara combining for 32 rushing yards on back-to-back plays early in the second quarter and Grose again getting burned on a crossing route for a 19-yard score from McNamara to Mike Sainristil to make it 30-14.
Walker took over from there, and the Spartans continued their dominance of U-M and their unbeaten season.
Thorne finished 19 of 30 for 196 yards and no TDs. Reed had 80 yards on six catches. And Nailor had four grabs for 75 yards but came out of the locker room at halftime with his right hand heavily wrapped in fingers taped and did not play in the second half.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan State football's gigantic 2nd half beats Michigan 37-33