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Fantastic finishes mark Irish-Spartans rivalry

Heather VanHoegarden | Thursday, September 16, 2004

The big play has historically decided these games.The last five contests between Michigan State and Notre Dame have been decided by game-winning touchdowns coming from 40 or more yards out late in the fourth quarter.The Irish will face a Michigan State (1-1) team who is coming off a 24-7 win over Central Michigan. Notre Dame, meanwhile, faces the Spartans after a big win at home over then-No. 8 Michigan. But the Irish are not worried about a letdown.”The win against Michigan was great but it means nothing right now,” defensive end Justin Tuck said. “We have to go up there and if we are not focused they can easily embarrass you. So that’s our focus right now. “That’s what our leaders are preaching and that is what our coaches were preaching yesterday during our meetings. I don’t think we are going to let this one slip by mentally. We are going to be geared in and ready to go.”The Irish must prepare for Spartans quarterback Steven Reaves, a redshirt freshman, who will get the start according to coach John L. Smith. Reaves started last week against Central Michigan, going 9-for-19 for 183 yards and one touchdown. However, he was replaced in the fourth quarter by Drew Stanton, who went 1-for-3 and ran for 43 yards on two carries.Jason Teague and Jehuu Caulcrick, who rushed for 74 yards and 68 yards, respectively, against the Chippewas, lead the Spartans in the rushing game. Receiver Kyle Brown caught six passes for 123 yards and a touchdown. But the story of the game was the Spartans’ rushing defense – they gave up 236 yards on the ground, including 170 yards to Jerry Seymour.Despite the numbers, the Irish know Michigan State will play them tough, especially when looking back to the history of the rivalry. Last season, the Irish were ousted at home, 22-16, when Greg Taplin returned an interception 40 yards with 6 minutes, 55 seconds left in the game.Notre Dame linebacker Mike Goolsby said he knows the Spartans always come to play against the Irish.”I think just talking about it [Sunday] it’s just one of those cases where they just play their hearts out against us and they give us everything they got year in and year out,” he said.Michigan State defensive back Tyrell Dortch called this game a “must-win” for the Spartans.”It is a big game for us,” Dortch said of the matchup against the Irish. “We need to win the game.”And the Irish know what they will be in for when they travel to East Lansing, Mich., to face the Spartans Saturday evening.”It seems like the whole time I’ve been here they’ve been great games coming down to the wire,” said Goolsby, a fifth-year senior. “Hopefully that won’t be the case this year but we’re preparing for another tough game.”For Willingham, it is special to play against his alma mater for the third straight year, but that doesn’t mean he will show his fondness for the school during the game.”It’s not just another team,” Willingham said. “I’ve got some pretty good memories from my days at Michigan State. You have a fondness for that, you have a fondness for the University and you have great respect for it. “But, once again, when the official blows that whistle, there will be no thoughts about the fondness of Michigan State.”