Anytime I've ever attended a meaningful Michigan State vs. Penn State game, it seemed like mother nature wanted to make it the coldest experience possible. In 2002, when Larry Johnson was chasing 2,000 yards, I sat in the student section with my brother after a solid 8 hours of preparation in the intramural lot. No amount of liquid courage could stop the blistering cold on that day. Luckily for us, Larry Johnson made quick work of an over matched Spartan defense and eclipsed the 2,000 yard mark in the first half (279 yards in one half of football, quite impressive).
Fast forward to 2008 - Penn State once again had a meaningful game against Michigan State, a Big Ten title clincher, the first since Michael Robinson's 2005 season (wasn't a long time, but felt like it because of the previous two mediocre seasons). This time, the weather was colder and included snow. It must have been like 20 degrees but felt like 5. It also didn't help that I was sitting (pre-game, must standing during the game) on a metal bench that resembled the counter at your local Cold Stone Creamery and not a seating apparatus. Making the whole situation even more surreal, on the walk to the stadium, the Big Ten Network was setting up their talking-head booth. And who do i see getting ready to tell Big Ten country everything they need to know about the game, none other than former Illinois hero, J Leman.
When game time finally arrived, it felt like it was over before it began. Penn State put up points early and often. It was a fitting way to send out the trio of wide receivers - Derrick Williams, Deon Butler, and Jordan Norwood, perhaps the greatest trio Penn State has had on the roster at one time. The trio led Penn State back to the promise land as freshman and 2005 and were about to cap off some fantastic careers in 2008.
BSD hero Graham Zug got the scoring party started in the first when Clark connected with the deceptive athlete for a five yard TD. Senior Dan Lawlor got the call the next time the Lions were in the red zone and was able to score a rare TD. By this point, the game was already getting out of hand. The defense was relentless and did an outstanding job of containing the Big Ten's top runner, Javon Ringer and QB Brian Hoyer.
Clark scored the second of Penn State's three 2nd quarter TDs on a one yard QB sweep which he set up with a long completion to Zug. Derrick Williams had the catch of the day, a diving, 32-yard TD catch in traffic to bring the score to 28-0. MSU was able to get on the board late in the half with a Ringer TD run, but at that point, the frozen fans in Happy Valley were just waiting to pass out the roses.
Not to be shown up by his classmate, fan favorite and former walk-on, Deon Butler had the game of his life. The schools all time leader in receptions put on a clinic for his Beaver Stadium finale. After catching a 4-yard slant for a TD in the 3rd, Butler followed it up with a blown coverage 70-yard TD from Clark and a 59-yard catch and run from Penn State cast off (his final throw and game for the Nittany Lions) Pat Devlin. It was an amazing way to cap a spectacular career.
After Deon put the game out of reach, as if there was any doubt, and NaVorro Bowman absolutely destroyed Brian Hoyer, MSU tacked on two late 4th quarter TDs to make the final 49-18. As much as I remember the weather and the scoring display, the image that sticks in my mind the most is the players handing Tom Bradley a rose with a few minutes left on the clock (Joe Paterno was still coaching in the press box because he had the injury). Bradley, as expected, was not happy. It was just another little moment in a night of huge ones.
Thanks to the magic of Twitter, I was able to ask Daryll Clark for some feedback on the game. To my surprise, DC responded. When asked about what he remembered about the game:
Just the fact that no one believed we would remotely close to a Big Ten title and for to close it out like we did #evensweeter
Clark did say this was not his most memorable game.
I could easily say LSU or could also say MSU in 2008...I'm going wit my first Big Ten win under the lights against Illinois.
Well Daryll, it was my favorite game of your career. I enjoyed freezing for all 341 yards and 4 TDs. Oh and to the timeout calling, sore losing head coach of Michigan State - no Big Ten title for you! (at least not in 2008).
Lou Prato's Response
When I saw this game on the list, I had to think about. Oh, yeah, the one Penn State clinched its third Big Ten championship, the one Michigan State believed was going to give them the Big Ten title and possibly put them into the Rose Bowl instead of the Nittany Lions. Why did I have to think about it? Well, nearly four years later I guess I am still trying to get over Penn State's game the previous week-the heartbreaking Iowa game. I can still see that interception and field goal on the last play of the game that knocked Penn State out of the BCS championship game and ruined another possible perfect season. But I cannot remember a single play from the Michigan State game without going back to my files of newspaper stories.
I do recall that Michigan State and their fans really believed they were going come into Beaver Stadium and win. They were that confident. The Spartans came in with their best record in years, 9-2, and 6-1 in the Big Ten. But even if they won, to get to the Rose Bowl they had to rely on their No. 1 rival, Michigan, to upset Ohio State earlier in the day, because OSU would be co-champion and in line for the Rose Bowl. Perhaps, the Spartans were too overconfident because they were thinking of the 2007 game at MSU when they rallied from a 24-7 second half deficit to beat the Lions, 35-31.
After glancing at some of the coverage of the game, I then remembered Penn State dominated the game and it was all over in the third quarter, with the Lions leading 42-7 going into the last quarter. Penn State won 48-18, and when I remembered the seniors deservedly celebrating in that cold, frigid
weather. And no matter what happened later in the Rose Bowl with Pete Carroll and his "hired guns," those seniors, and that team, can be as proud as any other champion in Penn State's long history.