Photo courtesy of MCT
Big Ten Conference Commissioner Jim Delany said it best while presenting the trophy presentation at the conclusion of the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game: “Wow.”
Wisconsin beat Michigan State, 42-39, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind., in the first-ever Big Ten Championship Game and clinched a second-consecutive berth to the Rose Bowl. The Badgers jumped to a 21-7 lead after a quarter against MSU before trailing the Spartans, 39-34, with less than four minutes to play in the game. Badgers junior running back Montee Ball scored four touchdowns and added 137 yards on the ground to help lead Wisconsin to its second-consecutive berth to the Rose Bowl.
Saturday’s game featured 816 total yards of offense between the two teams and MSU took a 29-21 lead into half. The Spartans’ lead held until the 3:45 mark of the fourth quarter when a seven-yard run by Ball put Wisconsin up for good.
Trailing by three points with 1:37 to play, MSU forced a Wisconsin punt and would have had one last shot at a score. Sophomore safety Isaiah Lewis was flagged for roughing the kicker and the Badgers were awarded a first down and began to celebrate its championship.
Kevin Noon, managing editor of buckeyegrove.com, had a field-level view of MSU’s late-game penalty and said he wasn’t as sure the correct call was made after seeing replays.
“I was standing on the field right by it and I felt a lot better about it when I saw it live than when I saw it on the replays,” Noon said. “I thought there was a little bit of embellishment by the punter and I still think there may be a question whether or not Isaiah Lewis was pushed into the punter.
“But I think ultimately by definition of the rule, it was the right call.”
For MSU, it’s the second consecutive year the Spartans have come just short of making the Rose Bowl and have instead had to watch the Badgers represent the Big Ten.
MSU coach Mark Dantonio said he thought his team played well, but the loss would be difficult to stomach.
“I thought both football teams showed a tremendous amount of maturity and toughness in terms of battling back,” Dantonio said on MSU’s website. “We started a little bit slow and played extremely well the entire first half on offense. Tough to lose it as we did, but tough take the tough times sometimes. So very difficult, the end of the football game, the way it all went down, but we’ll rise again.”
The Badgers’ record improved to 11-2 on the year with both losses, including one earlier in the season to MSU, coming in the final seconds. Their only other loss came to Ohio State under the lights at Ohio Stadium on Oct. 29, when OSU freshman quarterback Braxton Miller connected with classmate and wide receiver Devin Smith for a touchdown to take the lead with 20 seconds left in the game.
Sophomore linebacker Chris Borland said that despite the heartbreaking losses earlier in the season, the team was ecstatic about Saturday’s victory.
“It’s a dream come true for us,” Borland said on Wisconsin’s athletic website. “To get here after what we suffered in the middle of the season, it’s the highest of highs.”
The Badgers will travel to Pasadena, Calif., for the Rose Bowl to take on Oregon on Jan. 2.