CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Damion Terry made one magical fourth-down play happen with his feet to put Michigan State in the lead. He couldn’t come up with a second feat of magic to win the game for the Spartans.
Terry came into the game in the fourth quarter for an injured Tyler O’Connor and led the Spartans on two scoring drives, including a 13-yard touchdown pass to senior WR R.J. Shelton that gave them a 27-24 lead over Illinois with 2:52 left. Unfortunately for Terry and Michigan State, he couldn’t come up with a third scoring drive. Terry was tackled for a 1-yard loss on fourth-and-2 from the Illinois 15-yard line with 12 seconds to play by DE Carroll Phillips and LB Hardy Nickerson, securing the Illini’s 31-27 victory.
It is Michigan State’s seventh consecutive loss. That equals the program’s longest losing streak since 1982. The Spartans are now 2-6 overall and 0-6 in the Big Ten.
Terry nearly pulled off the rally.
“I thought he did a nice job,” coach Mark Dantonio said. “On the last series he took us down the field. I thought he did a nice job. Big throw on the series before that to R.J. All I can say is: too many missed opportunities.”
The teams called four straight timeouts; one by Michigan State with 19 seconds left and then three straight by Illinois coach Lovie Smith. Those timeouts forced Michigan State to change plays and formations before finally snapping the ball.
Terry felt pressure in the pocket as he looked over his progressions. He tried to run for the first down but couldn’t escape Carroll and Nickerson.
He escaped everyone on his touchdown pass to Shelton. The Spartans trailed 24-20 had a fourth-and-4 from the Illinois 13. There would be no settling for a field goal — Michael Geiger had already kicked four — this time. Terry moved away from the pressure, rolling to his right. He came back towards the center of the field and picked up a couple of key blocks that enabled him time to find Shelton in the back of the end zone.
“We had a naked right play,” Shelton said. “I came out of my break and saw Damion roll to the right. For me, I just peeled right back around because I know (tight end) Josiah (Price) is going to come back across. Me and Damion just looked at each other in the eyes from however far of a distance it was and he trusted to go up there.”
The touchdown capped off a 6-play, 52-yard drive. Terry’s first drive in relief of O’Connor ended up in a 29-yard field goal by Geiger.
Shelton finished the game with seven catches for 80 yards but he wasn’t on the field for the final play. He had gone off after taking a hard hit earlier in the drive.
Terry finished the game 6-of-12 passing for 50 yards and added 14 yards rushing on three attempts. He just couldn’t come up with those final 15 yards at the end of the game.
“I felt really bad for Tyler. I thought he played his heart and soul out today,” said Price, who had 6 catches for 65 yards, including a 26-yard reception in the third quarter. “The one he scrambled around the corner and threw a great ball to me on third-and-11. He played his heart out.
“I think Damion came in and played really well. I think Damion played his heart out, too, and did everything he could to help us but just a couple of things didn’t go our way. It was frustrating.”
Kevin Goheen covers Michigan State for Landof10.com. Follow him on Twitter at @CincyGoGo