The Michigan State Spartans and Iowa Hawkeyes had trouble finding the end zone early in the game, but the Spartans pulled away on a touchdown late in the game to win the Big Ten Championship at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana over the Hawkeyes, 16-13.
C.J. Beathard completed a pass to Henry Krieger Coble for an eight-yard gain, but the receiver fumbled after being hit by Riley Bullough. The ball was quickly recovered by Arjen Colquhon of Michigan State with 14:09 to play in the first quarter.
The Iowa defense stepped up as the team kept Michigan State to just a 23-yard field goal try. Michael Geiger put the ball down the middle of the uprights to give the Spartans a 3-0 lead with 11:11 to play in the first quarter.
The second turnover of the game occurred on the other side of the ball. Josey Jewell, a Hawkeyes linebacker, intercepted Connor Cook at the Michigan State 20-yard line. The interception set up a field goal try for Iowa, which was made by Marshall Koehn. With 5:08 to play in the first quarter, the game was knotted 3-3 between the Hawkeyes and Spartans in the Big Ten Championship game.
Koehn and the Hawkeyes took a 6-3 lead with a 43-yard field goal to start the second quarter. With the three points, Koehn moved into 15th place on the all-time scoring list for Iowa.
For the second time in the game, Cook was sacked. This time it was Bo Bowers and Aaron Mends with a five-yard sack to force a fourth down. Because of the sack, Geiger missed a 52-yard field goal with just over eight minutes to play in the first half, which allowed the Hawkeyes to keep the three point lead.
On the Michigan State five-yard line, Beathard was intercepted by Demetrious Cox on a pass intended for Matt VandeBerg in the end zone with 3:27 left in the first half. The turnover allowed the Spartans to take over at their own 20-yard line.
With 1:49 left in the half, Iowa got the ball back on a huge stop on third down. Michigan State got the ball back with 31 seconds left, which transitioned into a field goal opportunity. Geiger, for the second time, missed a field goal. As time expired, his 53-yard field goal bounced off the post.
The missed field goal kept Iowa ahead 6-3 leading into the halftime locker room. The Hawkeyes have led at halftime in every single game except in their victory against the Iowa State Cyclones, which they came back from behind.
After a long third quarter drought, the Spartans found the scoreboard and tied the game. Geiger made a 29-yard field goal to bounce back after missing his previous two field goals with 4:23 left in the third quarter.
Geiger's 47-yard field goal with 57 seconds to play in the third gave the Spartans a 9-6 lead over the Hawkeyes. It marked the fifth field goal of the game between both squads. As the quarter came to a close, Iowa only managed to gain three yards.
While Iowa gained just three yards in the fourth, the Hawkeyes opened the fourth quarter with a 85-yard touchdown connection between Beathard and Tevaun Smith to take a 13-9 lead over Michigan State. The score marked the longest reception of Smith's career and the longest play from scrimmage for Iowa this season. It was also the eight drive of the season that lasted for just two plays.
"It's tough,'' Beathard said after the loss. "You've gone all season long and haven't experienced what it's like to lose a game. Every time we've been in the locker room after a game it's been exciting. It's just tough because losing a game like that when it's that close, it's hard to handle."
On third-and-eight from midfield, Cook hit Aaron Burbridge for a 16-yard first down. Just a minute later, the Spartans were in the red zone with under four minutes to play in the game. Cook converted on fourth-and-two with 1:54 left in the game and after a timeout, Michigan State scored their first touchdown of the game, which came on the 21st play of the drive.
Freshman running back L.J. Scott fought through the defensive line of Iowa and used a huge reach to give Michigan State a 16-13 lead with 27 seconds to play in the Big Ten Championship battle on a one-yard carry.
"I was just trying to make a big play for my brothers," Scott said. "We knew what we had at stake."
Iowa's pass-and-lateral ended in a fumble, which was recovered by Jermaine Edmondson. The recovery secured the 16-13 victory as time expired. For the third time in the last five years and the second time in last three years, the Spartans have won the Big Ten Championship.
"We wanted to come back and win a championship," Cook said. "It's awesome, man."
The victory for Michigan State puts them in a very good position to make the College Football Playoffs. Both Michigan State and Iowa will tune in on Sunday to hear who they will be facing in their bowl game.
"Our football team knows how to win. We can play it out," MSU coach Mark Dantonio said. "We don't count ourselves out. When some things aren't going so well, we keep playing as evidence by the game."