By NOAH TRISTER/AP Sports Writer
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) – Michigan State left the field after its final home game with a familiar feeling.
“After every loss we say the same things over and over,” linebacker Denicos Allen said. “There were plenty of mistakes that happened today. It’s kind of been that way all year, just little mistakes that have cost us games all year.”
Jeff Budzien kicked a 27-yard field goal with 7:30 remaining, and Northwestern was able to hold on to this fourth-quarter lead, beating Michigan State 23-20 on Saturday. It was Northwestern’s first win over Michigan State since 2007, and the Spartans must now beat Minnesota next weekend to become bowl eligible.
All seven of Michigan State’s conference games have been decided by four points or fewer – the first time that’s happened to any Big Ten team since at least 1996, according to STATS, LLC.
“We keep pressing forward and talking about playing yourself out of this,” coach Mark Dantonio said. “It’s a test and you’re under fire under the test and you have to be able to respond and persevere through these things.”
Northwestern’s Trevor Siemian threw for 165 yards, including a 41-yard pass to Dan Vitale that helped set up the winning kick. The Wildcats (8-3, 4-3 Big Ten) then forced a punt near midfield, and by the time Michigan State (5-6, 2-5) got the ball back at its own 20, there was only 1:29 left.
Northwestern lost fourth-quarter leads in gut-wrenching losses to Penn State, Nebraska and Michigan, but this time Michigan State’s Andrew Maxwell threw four straight incompletions to seal the Spartans’ fate.
The Wildcats spoiled Michigan State’s home finale despite what was announced as an upper extremity injury to running back Venric Mark, who didn’t play in the second half. Siemian and Kain Colter split time at quarterback for the Wildcats. Colter went 13 of 20 for 81 yards and a touchdown.
Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell ran for 133 yards. Maxwell went 22 of 46 for 297 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
“We outrushed them (122-57), we had more first downs (23-17), more passing yards (297-246) and third-down conversions (8-3), but you can’t overcome mistakes,” Dantonio said.
Northwestern led 13-5 early in the third quarter after David Nwabuisi returned an interception 43 yards for a touchdown. Maxwell seemed shaken up on the play, but he was able to keep playing and quickly led the Spartans on a sharp 65-yard drive that ended with his 15-yard scoring pass to Aaron Burbridge. A 2-point conversion pass to Keith Mumphery tied it at 13.
Colter’s 6-yard touchdown pass to Tim Riley gave Northwestern a 20-13 lead, but the Spartans tied it again on a 6-yard scoring pass from Maxwell to Tony Lippett with 9:22 left in the fourth.
Michigan State lost the ball twice inside the Northwestern 5-yard line in the first half. A fumble on the snap gave the Wildcats the ball at their own 2 late in the first quarter, but Colter was hit in the end zone by Max Bullough and William Gholston for a safety that made it 3-2.
“I thought the White Sox were playing the Tigers – looked like a baseball game,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “But again, a road win in the Big Ten comes with a great price.”
Michigan State led 5-3 in the second and had the ball at the Northwestern 1, but Bell was dropped for a loss of 3 on fourth down.
The Wildcats took a 6-5 lead into halftime when Budzien made a 43-yard field goal in the final minute of the quarter, and Michigan State’s Dan Conroy missed from 37 at the other end.
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