SAN DIEGO — Chris Frey firmly grasped the Holiday Bowl defensive MVP trophy Thursday night and raised it up for the Michigan State crowd at SDCCU Stadium to see.
The senior linebacker thought back to his freshman year, when the Spartans rallied from 20 points down in the fourth quarter to beat Baylor in the Cotton Bowl. He remembered the bowl game officials choosing Baylor players as the offensive and defensive most-valuable players with the assumption the game essentially was over.
This time around, No. 16 Michigan State left no doubt about the outcome. With a 21-3 advantage going into the break, the Spartans led at halftime of a bowl game for the first time since the 2009 Capital One Bowl against Georgia. They lost that one, but the Spartans’ 42-17 win over No. 18 Washington State seldom looked in doubt.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to come to a bowl game and win the MVP, and it was a blessing,” Frey said. “I couldn’t have done it without the guys in the locker room. I told [sophomore linebacker] Joe Bachie I couldn’t have done it without him. I’ve learned a lot from him. He pushed me to be a better player and a better person, and it’s been an honor playing with all these guys.”
Frey got back to the locker room after the win and told fellow senior linebacker Shane Jones he didn’t want to change clothes. “I’m going to take as much time as I can in my jersey,” he said.
Having won 36 games in his four years, it was tough to see it come to an abrupt end.
But Frey and the small senior class can find satisfaction in knowing they left on top as bowl game champions. Damion Terry seemed to embrace the moment. The senior quarterback, inserted into the game after an injury to Brian Lewerke, scored on a 6-yard rush to cap off a turbulent career marked by injuries and unfulfilled on-field expectations.
In that moment, Terry looked content. He got up in the end zone and pumped his arms in celebration. The addition to his career stats didn’t matter nearly as much as the reaction it garnered from his teammates.
“I just want to be known as a good leader, good teammate,” Terry said. “When I saw my teammates support and rally me when I scored a touchdown, that meant everything to me. I just remember the whole year going by, always telling my guys … ‘I’m living through you today.’
“I try to get them pumped up like that, so just seeing them return the favor with me getting out there, that meant the world to me. I’ll never forget that, seeing their support, and I’m glad we could get Coach D his 100th win and our team’s 10th win.”
No matter how a player’s time in college ends, it’s always abrupt. Frey graduated shortly before the bowl game, ending his academic time at Michigan State, and now football has finished as well. Center Brian Allen said he’ll move to Arizona and “start working out” on Friday, one day after winning in San Diego.
It won’t ease the pain of reaching the end, but finishing with a 10-win season and bowl victory will provide contentment down the road. This small group led a turnaround from the turmoil of 3-9 in 2016 to a 10-3 record a year later. That will be its legacy. Not a bad way to go out.
“I’m just happy for all the memories I’ve made in the last four years,” Allen said. “It sucks to know it’s over, but I wouldn’t go back and change anything.”