Michigan State overcame two turnovers and a missed field goal to top Wake Forest in the 10th edition of the Pinstripe Bowl in The Bronx.
Michigan State perhaps had more errors at Yankee Stadium on Friday afternoon than the New York Yankees did during their sloppy Game 4 loss in the ALCS. Yet, much like their pinstriped hosts, they had just enough home run plays to escape The Bronx with a win.
Spartans quarterback Brian Lewerke tallied 366 yards of offense and two touchdowns, allowing Michigan State to earn a 27-21 over the Wake Forest Demon Deacons in the 10th edition of the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. It marked a fitting end for the fifth-year senior, who took home the game’s MVP honor.
Lewerke departs East Lansing as the program’s all-time leader in offensive yards, passing fellow quarterback Connor Cook with 9,548. Friday’s honor earned him his second postseason MVP trophy. He was previously the star of the Spartans’ 2017 Holiday Bowl win over Washington State.
While Lewerke’s tenure was marred with injuries and inconsistency, head coach Mark Dantonio was sure to point the lasting impact he’ll have on Spartans football.
“Lewerke made a lot of plays with his legs. Brian made a lot of throws, as well,” Dantonio said, per Michigan State’s athletics website. “For a quarterback who really played three solid years, he was hurt some last year, so he didn’t play in about four games, (the record) is quite an accomplishment.”
Other Spartan seniors who ended their college careers on the right note included defensive tackle Mike Panasiuk, who took a Jamie Newman interception back 14 yards for a score in the first quarter. Defensive end Kenny Willekes added 1.5 sacks, moving into the top five in program history.
Underclassmen otherwise ruled the day for Michigan State (7-6). Redshirt freshman Elijah Collins led all rushers with 96 yards on the ground. Junior Cody White (eight receptions, 97 yards) scored the game-winning touchdown in the third quarter while a 64-yard grab from another first-year man, Trenton Gillison, set up Lewerke’s rushing score.
“We had young guys playing. That was good for them, to experience a win in a bowl game,” Dantonio said. “I thought it was an exciting game. (We’re) excited about it. Guys are very excited about the win.”
White’s 10-yard winner from Lewerke on the third quarter’s opening drive was the last score of the day after a wild first half that ended with Wake Forest (8-5) leading 21-20. The teams played hot potato with the lead over the first 30 minutes, but the Deacons were sustained by quarterback Jamie Newman and his three touchdown passes.
Michigan State outgained Wake Forest 497-351, including a 320-175 advantage through the air. Spartan miscues, including a Lewerke interception and a Gillison fumble, came in Wake territory and gave the Deacons hope. But the Spartans defense bore down when it mattered most. The final frame opened with a Spartan stand on fourth down after the interception, followed by a Wake Forest punt that almost allowed Michigan State to clinch the win. An 80-yard drive, however, went for naught, as kicker Matt Coghlin’s would-be dagger from 28 yards out failed to convert.
One four-and-out later, however, the celebration commenced on the green sidelines.
The Spartans defense had come in reeling after dropping five of their last seven games. They had given up at least 28 points in all five losses. But Dantonio was glad the unit was able to come together for one last big showing before the 2019 season let out.
“As the game progressed, we got more confident, we got more I would say stronger, more confident. I think that was the difference,” the head coach said of the defensive performance. “Our attitude and our confidence level just continued to just raise as we went.”
Newman finished with 175 yards on 12-of-27 passing. The redshirt junior has been on the NFL radar but said he was still undecided about the future after the game.
“I’m not sure, I’m not sure. I’m not sure at this moment,” Newman told Conor O’Neill of the Winston-Salem Journal. “I’m just going to take some time, sit back and talk to my family, relax a little bit, heal up, then make a very smart decision.”
Friday’s game marked the 10th edition of the annual Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium and the sixth straight to feature a Big Ten vs. ACC matchup. Michigan State’s win improved the Big Ten’s mark to 5-1 in the game.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffMags5490