When an important college football game is on the line, anything is possible. Some coaches play conservatively. Others put the ball in their best player’s hands. A rare few take a massive gamble that will either make them a hero or a villain. Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio definitely fell into that last category one night, and it paid off in a big-time way.
On September 18, 2010, the Michigan State Spartans hosted the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Spartan Stadium. It was a massive non-conference matchup in East Lansing with tons of star power. The game was a battle and even went into overtime, but no play or moment comes close to the final snap.
Lining up for a 46-yard field goal to tie the game and force a second overtime, Dantonio decided to run a trick play. It worked to perfection and will forever be known to Michigan State fans and the world as “Little Giants.”
Michigan State’s “Little Giants” Fake Field Goal
Looking back at the box score, this game had a little bit of everything.
For Notre Dame, under first-year coach Brian Kelly, quarterback Dane Crist was a monster, throwing for 369 yards and four touchdowns. Running back Armando Allen Jr. had 141 all-purpose yards, while wide receiver Theo Riddick (128 yards), Michael Floyd (81 yards) and tight end Kyle Rudolph (80 yards) all caught at least one touchdown.
For Michigan State, quarterback Kirk Cousins threw for 245 yards with two touchdowns, running backs Le’Veon Bell (114 yards) and Edwin Baker (90 yards) both found the end zone, and wide receivers B.J. Cunningham (101 yards) and Keshawn Martin (96 yards) caught important passes.
Those are some big names who still play in the NFL, but the two stars of the night were MSU punter Aaron Bates and tight end Charlie Gantt. Ironically enough, they connected on the longest pass play of the night.
At the end of the first overtime, and after Cousins was sacked, going for the tie looked like the best option for the Spartans. So they sent kicker Dan Conroy out to the field to try to extend the game. He hadn’t attempted a field goal all night, but he was ready.
Then, Michigan State fooled everyone. Bates took the snap. Conroy ran out to the flat. Bell ran down field and took out two Notre Dame defenders. That left Gantt wide open for an easy touchdown and a historic walk-off win.
It went down as a 29-yard touchdown pass from Bates to Gantt, but it meant so much more to that Michigan State football team and the celebration that night was like the Spartans had won the Big Ten Championship or a College Football Playoff game on ESPN. It was that special.
“We always name our trick plays after movies. We keep it fun,” Mark Dantonio said. “We actually put it in on Wednesday. It worked every time. I made the call, ‘Little Giants,’ and I said a little prayer.”
After the game, Dantonio suffered a mild heart attack and MSU offensive coordinator Don Treadwell was named the acting head coach in his absence.
This is not the first time something wild has happened after the fourth quarter in an NCAA game. Far from it. It’s just one of the best in college football history.
The Spartans went 11-2 that season, including big road games against the Michigan Wolverines and Penn State Nittany Lions. They ultimately lost their bowl game to Alabama to end the season, but fans will always have “Little Giants.”
Nobody can take that memory away.
This post was originally published on May 19, 2020.