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‘Little Giants’ still a big memory for Michigan St
EAST LANSING, MICH. (AP) - Aaron Bates remembers taking the snap, standing up and bouncing lightly on his feet.
The Michigan State holder figured Notre Dame would be caught off guard, but with the fake field goal actually in progress and the defense reacting, he needed to stay calm. The man he was supposed to throw to was caught up at the line of scrimmage, so Bates took a few steps to his right and waited.
“The old quarterback instincts _ you kind of move where the space is,” said Bates, who played quarterback in high school before becoming a valuable punter for the Spartans. “Just kind of react. Don’t even think about it.”
Bates found an open man that night last September and completed one of college football’s most dramatic passes of the season. Charlie Gantt’s 29-yard touchdown catch in overtime gave the Spartans a 34-31 victory over Notre Dame, and the play _ called “Little Giants” _ was a much-needed boost for a Michigan State program struggling to get over the hump.
The 15th-ranked Spartans play at Notre Dame on Saturday in a much-anticipated rematch.
“Had it not won the football game, it would be a bad big play, I guess,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “Because of the circumstances in the game, all the circumstances after the game, the whole thing, it probably took on a little bit more of a meaning.”
Dantonio had a mild heart attack after the game, but he eventually came back to lead Michigan State to a share of the Big Ten title. It was quite an improvement for the Spartans, who went 6-7 the previous season and weren’t viewed as much of a threat nationally before facing Notre Dame last year.
“It probably was the game that kind of turned things around,” Bates said.
The Spartans trailed 31-28 in overtime that night and faced fourth-and-14 when they lined up for what would have been a 46-yard field goal. The kick was no gimme, so Dantonio called for a fake.
It didn’t go as planned. Le’Veon Bell was supposed to be the primary target, but Notre Dame defended the play well initially, and Bell had to fight his way through traffic at the line.
It turned out to be a simple throw for Bates and a miserable ending for the Irish.
“I think the down and distance was a bit of a surprise. We know in that situation, regardless of it, we had to defend it better,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “But no, I thought it was a great call. It worked.”
In the immediate aftermath, Dantonio’s health scare overshadowed the play, but Michigan State was able to build on the win. The Spartans started 8-0 en route to an 11-2 season, and “Little Giants” is the moment everyone seems to remember.
Dantonio has sought to downplay the memorable play. Beating Notre Dame (0-2) again won’t be easy.
But if the Spartans (2-0) do add another win to this impressive run they’re on, the significance of last season’s springboard will only grow.
“It’s just another play at the end of a game that either you win or sometimes you lose. I guess that’s the way I’ll always look at it,” Dantonio said before smiling ever so slightly. “Just glad it worked.”
By Donald Lambro
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