Michigan State beats Purdue on late field goal
Between them, they had 10 losses this season by eight or fewer points, turning seasons filled with promise into scrambles for bowl eligibility.
Michigan State's Brett Swenson made the game-winning 21-yard field goal with 1:51 left, and the Spartans beat Purdue 40-37 on Saturday to become bowl eligible.
"This is the first time really to be on the other end of one of these close games," said Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins, who threw three touchdown passes. "It's a great feeling. You wish you could have been on this end of a few more of them. For now, that's the way it is. We learned a lot."
B.J. Cunningham caught three passes for 92 yards and a score for the Spartans (6-5, 4-3 Big Ten), which overcame an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit.
Purdue quarterback Joey Elliott completed 39 of 55 passes for a career-high 373 yards and two touchdowns. Keith Smith set career highs with 15 catches and 152 yards for the Boilermakers (4-7, 3-4), who were eliminated from bowl contention.
Purdue had lost five straight games by a combined 33 points early in the season, but rallied to win three of four to contend for a bowl bid. With Alamo Bowl representatives in attendance, the Boilermakers faltered.
"We had a chance to finish them but just didn't do the job," Smith said. "We made a lot of little mistakes that cost us the game."
The Boilermakers gained 524 yards and kept the ball for 41 minutes, but Michigan State gained 229 yards on kickoff returns, and the Spartans stopped Purdue on its final possession.
"We really didn't sustain any drives, which was unfortunate," Michigan State receiver Blair White said. "But whenever you can have those big plays to get over that hump — however we can win, we'll take it."
The kicking game was a double whammy for Purdue. Michigan State's Keshawn Martin had 166 yards on five kickoff returns. On the other side, Purdue's normally efficient Carson Wiggs missed one field goal and had another blocked.
Ralph Bolden fumbled on Purdue's first offensive play, and Michigan State's Chris Rucker returned it 11 yards for a touchdown seven seconds into the game.
The Boilermakers rallied and led 20-17 at halftime. Purdue outgained Michigan State 266-174 before the break.
Swenson made a career-long 52-yard field goal to make it 20-all, but Purdue came back with an 18-play, 80-yard drive. Elliott capped it with a 3-yard TD pass to Cortez Smith to give the Boilermakers a 27-20 lead. It was Purdue's longest scoring drive of the season.
Swenson hit another 52-yarder late in the third quarter to cut Purdue's lead to 27-23.
Purdue's defense held, then the Boilermakers came back with another scoring drive. Bolden scored his second touchdown, a 1-yarder to make it 34-23 early in the fourth quarter.
Michigan State needed just one play to respond. Cousins found Cunningham for a 73-yard touchdown, and the Spartans cut Purdue's lead to 34-30.
"Boom, just like that, we're right back in the game," White said.
A 50-yard field-goal attempt by Wiggs was blocked by Jeremy Ware, and the Spartans gained possession at their 46-yard line. A run by Martin on a reverse went for 45 yards and put the Spartans inside the Purdue 10. Cousins found White for a 9-yard score with 6:59 to play, and Michigan State took a 37-34 lead.
Purdue drove into field-goal range again, and this time, Wiggs converted from 49 yards to tie the game at 37 with 2:38 to play.
Martin returned the kickoff 85 yards to the Purdue 11 to set up Swenson's game winner.
Now, the pressure is off for Michigan State's season finale, at home against Penn State.
"It's great to just extend the season an extra month," White said. "As a senior, to leave these guys and go on somewhere else after the Penn State game would have been tough. We've got a big game against Penn State. Hopefully, we can go 3-0 in November."