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Lion Tales: Michigan State

Bobby Engram’s last regular season fourth quarter proved to be a special one


Since joining the Big Ten in 1993, Penn State and Michigan State have played 27 times.

While the Nittany Lions lead the series in that time 17-10, the matchup has often been marked with some dramatic late-season games. Eleven times, the two teams have played a one possession game.

Today’s Lions Tales focuses on one of those - one that you’ve probably forgotten. A late-afternoon game in 1995 would mark the first time Nick Saban ever coached against the Lions and the last regular season game that an all-time Penn State legend was on the field.

Check out the highlights, but read below for more context on Penn State’s last-second 24-20 win in Spartan Stadium.

Coming off an unbeaten season in 1994, Penn State took a lot of “best shots” in 1995. While Kerry Collins, Ki-Jana Carter, and Kyle Brady were gone, the Lions still returned a lot of their offensive stars to help ease Wally Richardson into the quarterback position.

There were mixed results. Through 10 games, Penn State had already dug deep to hold off upset attempts from Texas Tech and Purdue. They had lost in back-to-back weeks to a mediocre Wisconsin team and a powerful Ohio State team. There was also the famed snow bowl win against Michigan that had come after a loss to Big Ten champ Northwestern.

The long, arduous season would come to a close at Spartan Stadium against Michigan State, who was bowl eligible but looking for another signature win in Nick Saban’s first season in East Lansing. The Spartans had also beaten Michigan earlier in the year.

For three quarters, the game was rather mundane as both quarterbacks struggled with mistakes. Richardson was picked off twice, while Tony Banks was picked off three times by Penn State. Normally reliable Brett Conway even missed a go-ahead field goal attempt late in the third.

Tied at 10 headed to the fourth quarter, Bobby Engram was about to play one of the most special quarters of his spectacular career.

The Spartans scored a touchdown with 13 minutes to go, letting them go in front 17-10. But facing a third-and-forever around midfield, Engram helped the Lions answer.

Michigan State blitzed, leaving Engram man-on-man on the outside and he hauled in a deep throw, slipped a tackle and the game was tied with 9:48 to go.

The Spartans regained the lead 20-17 with a little more than five minutes to go. Both teams traded punts and with less than two minutes, Penn State ultimately took over inside its own 30-yard line.

Richardson, who had been inaccurate all day, finally found a rhythm. He took a lot of checkdowns and found his tight ends some, helping the Lions into Spartan territory.

“We practice the two-minute offense every day, but I’ve never done this in a game,” Richardson said following the game. “That’s the tightest it’s ever been for me.”

But facing a third-and-goal with no timeouts and less than 20 seconds to go, Richardson turned his sights directly to Engram. He hit the senior wideout on a middle screen, a play that was relatively well covered by the Spartans. But Engram was able to slip under a tackle and dive into the end zone to help Penn State clinch an eighth win on the year.

“(On) the play we sent in I said, ‘Just go back to Bobby, don’t even look to Mike (Archie),’’ Penn State coach Joe Paterno said. “It’s not a bad idea to get the ball into the hands of Bobby Engram when your inside the 5.”

Penn State would go on to dominate the Outback Bowl against Auburn. Meanwhile, Saban would get the Spartans to a bowl where they played LSU, a program he would take over a few years later.