EAST LANSING, Mich. - Seconds after kicking the winning field goal in overtime to give Michigan a 34-31 victory over rival Michigan State, Garrett Rivas feared for his life.
It wasn't the crowd that scared him. It was his teammates.
"Everybody was jumping around and celebrating, there was this big pile, and I was just lucky I wasn't on the bottom of it, because we've got a lot of big guys," the 5-foot-9 Rivas said. "I was really happy I made the kick and that we won the game, and I was really happy I wasn't on the bottom of that pile."
Rivas, who had missed an easier 27-yard field goal try for the win with 48 seconds left in regulation, got a chance for redemption on Michigan's first series of overtime after Michigan State's John Goss missed his kick from 37 yards out.
The Wolverines had a third-and-3 with the ball as close to the center of the field as you could get it, so coach Lloyd Carr elected to send Rivas back out without running another play.
"I have great confidence in Garrett Rivas - he has been very reliable - and I just felt like it was the thing to do," Carr said of the 35-yard shot into the wind at the boisterous student end of the stadium.
A short carry by Mike Hart had centered the ball nicely for Rivas, but it was Hart's work in regulation that enabled the Wolverines (3-2, 1-1) to get to overtime. The sophomore running back, sidelined with a hamstring injury for most of the last three games, was a difference-maker with 218 yards on 36 carries as Michigan won its first Big Ten game, and handed No. 11 Michigan State (4-1, 1-1) its first loss.
"That third-down field goal was a great decision by the coach, because it gives us two tries to win the game if there's a bad snap or something," Hart said. "We knew we had to come out here and win, and we did it."
Rivas, a junior from Tampa who kicked the third game-winning field goal of his career, said his focus was on making the kick to end the game, and he was not aware it was third down.
"Honestly, I didn't even know what down it was, I was just standing by coach, waiting for the call. I wasn't thinking about the one I missed. I learned a long time ago that you have to have a short recovery period."
The game's wild emotional swings left little recovery time for anyone. Before Michigan drove to the Spartans' 2 for the shot at a winning field goal that Rivas missed, Michigan State's Domata Peko returned a fumble 74 yards for a touchdown to tie the score at 31-31 with fewer than seven minutes to play.
Hart had broken a 64-yard run on Michigan's previous series to set up his short burst for a touchdown and a 31-24 lead early in the fourth quarter.
"I wasn't going to miss this game for anything," said Hart. "This was a must-win."
The Wolverines had a sense of purpose from the start, working out of a deep hole on their opening drive after a punt by Michigan State's Brandon Fields pinned them near the goal line. The scene got a lot rosier three plays later when Hart popped through the line, found daylight, and angled for the sideline on a 45-yard run.
Quarterback Chad Henne, who completed 26 of 35 passes for 256 yards and three touchdowns, spread the ball around to four receivers on the first drive, lobbing a pass from the 2 to Jason Avant in the corner of the end zone for a 7-0 lead.
It was quick and dynamic the second time the Wolverines scored as Henne hit a wide open Mario Manningham behind the Spartans defense for a 43-yard score and a 14-0 advantage.
The Spartans regained their footing and mixed it up well on an 80-yard drive that ended when quarterback Drew Stanton rolled left to make it 14-7, but Michigan stretched it to 21-7 early in the second quarter as Henne found fullback Brian Thompson for a five-yard score.
"We needed to make more plays and get more big plays on the offensive side of the ball," Michigan State coach John L. Smith said. "It hurts, it hurts real bad, and it should hurt. You have to make more plays to win."
The Spartans scored two touchdowns in the final six minutes of the first half to tie the score, but a 20-yard field goal from Rivas in the final seconds gave Michigan a 24-21 edge at halftime.
A Goss 26-yarder pulled the Spartans even early in the third quarter, before Hart and Peko exchanged scores in the fourth, forcing the overtime and settring the stage for Rivas.
Contact Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6510.47.43392 15.0023