In quite the opposite fashion of his demeanor following every other win on record, Michigan State Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio, quite-literally, could not stop smiling after his team took down the Stanford Cardinal 24-20 on Wednesday in the 100th playing of the Rose Bowl In Pasadena, California.
"It's a special time for all Spartans, and we came here in force," coach Dantonio said while beaming with glee. "I'm very happy for our football team, the resilience we showed all season long."
The game came down to a fourth-and-1 with 1:46 to play where the Pac-12 champion Cardinal (11-3) tried to stuff the ball over the line through the gut for a first-down, yet defensive player of the game and Max Bullough replacement, Kyler Elsworth, who started in place of suspended senior leader, hurdled the pile of players to deliver a stunning, head-on hit to fullback Ryan Hewitt, who failed to convert on downs.
"When I saw their offensive linemen's stance, I knew the way to make a play was to go over the top," said Elsworth, who was selected as the game's defensive MVP.
Connor Cook, who first appeared on the Spartan Nation's radar during the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl last season where he led Michigan State to victory, threw for a career-high 332 yards and was able to completely rebound after a terrible decision just before halftime that led to a costly pick six. Cook remained poised and on-target throughout the game, despite the added pressures and constant passing game threat from the back field.
In fact, as if the Spartans' football gods were on hand watching in the stands, a number of picture perfect interceptions were dropped flat out by Stanford defensive players that could have changed the game on a number of occasions. Regardless, through it all, Cook was calm, cool, and collected and brought his team home another victory.
An emotional Dantonio recounted a story of when he traveled to Pasadena with his girls in May of 2013 and looked around the stadium and told his daughter's cell phone camera that he was going to bring his team here on January 1st, 2014 and his Spartans would win the Rose Bowl once-and-for-all. Standing with his team after the game, it all seemed like almost too much to Dantonio, who just couldn't seem to (nor want to) let the smile ebb off his at-peace face.
“You know, I just knew we were going to have a special football team this year, there was no question in my mind,” Dantonio told ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi on the field as the game ended. “We’re a 13-1 football team, won the Rose Bowl, it can’t get much better than that. ...
“You’re going to be able to come back here and see Michigan State up there winning on that plaque outside this Rose Bowl 50 years from now with your grandchildren.”
You can follow MSU writer, Michael Ferro, at twitter.com/MichaelFerro.