EAST LANSING, Mich. – Damion Terry came off the field last Saturday at Illinois after throwing a go-ahead touchdown pass to R.J. Shelton with 2 minutes, 52 seconds to play. Wide receiver Monty Madaris and linebacker Shane Jones were among the teammates who were first to greet Terry but they weren’t the only ones.
Terry had not previously thrown a touchdown pass in his four seasons at Michigan State. The last time Terry threw a touchdown pass was on Dec. 14, 2012, when he threw two touchdowns for Erie Cathedral Prep to lead it to the Pennsylvania Class AAA state title.
Unfortunately for Terry and his teammates, his first collegiate touchdown pass wasn’t a game-winner. Illinois scored its own late touchdown and then hung on to beat the Spartans, 31-27. Michigan State got back down the field with a chance to pull out the win, but Terry was tackled shy of a first down on fourth-and-3 from the Illinois 15-yard line with 12 seconds to play.
He got into the game because fifth-year senior Tyler O’Connor was injured on a quarterback sneak midway through the fourth quarter. Terry has played sparingly this season but he made the most of his opportunity against Illinois.
There still is no decision on whether it will be O’Connor or Terry who starts Saturday against Rutgers.
During his press conference earlier on Tuesday, Dantonio said about O’Connor: “I think he will be prepared to practice today. He should be cleared, but we’ll see. It’s not for me to make that decision, but it looks like that.”
It is unknown whether medical personnel have cleared O’Connor to practice. Practices are closed to the media, and Dantonio hasn’t given much information on specific injuries all season. That was the case again Tuesday. Terry spoke to the media after practice, however.
“It’s definitely stressful,” said Terry about the weekly quarterback competitions. “Every week you never know who it’s going to be. We all get the same amount of reps and everything, but we’re such a tight group, me, Tyler, Brian (Lewerke), Messiah (deWeaver), Colar (Kuhns), all of us. We just want to win.”
That’s all any of the Spartans want to do at this point. They’ve lost seven straight games, which is the program’s longest losing streak since 1982. They’re winless in the Big Ten and the game against Rutgers will be a battle of teams trying to get out of the Big Ten East basement.
Terry nearly got his team that win last week.
The touchdown pass to Shelton came on a fourth-and-4 play from the Illinois 13. Terry rolled to his right on the play, giving him a run/pass option. He was thinking pass all the way. He finally found Shelton in the back of the end zone after eluding a couple of pass rushers.
“I didn’t know if he was in but someone said he has to be in, he just did all of that,” Terry said. “I just had a rush in my body. I kind of wanted to cry. It was awesome. It was a great feeling. R.J., I saw him and his eyes were open.”
The next fourth down didn’t work out for Terry.
“I didn’t see it but I felt pressure. I think I could have stayed in there longer,” Terry said. “I thought I could get the 3 yards but it closed real fast. I think they did a nice little stunt. If I could take it back I’d probably just throw it up to Felton (Davis III) or someone in the end zone but it’s definitely not how I wanted to end the game. It definitely hurt.”
Dantonio announced his decision to start O’Connor last week during his weekly Thursday night radio show. He didn’t announce the starter until game time the three weeks prior. It is anyone’s guess what Dantonio decides this week, and O’Connor’s health status will be a determining factor in the decision. Dantonio may decide to play both quarterbacks.
“I thought Damion played pretty well in the game. I think Tyler played well in the game,” Dantonio said. “Tyler is earning his stripes. I think coming into this season, he was a guy that had quarterbacked one-and-a-half games. I think right now the way he’s handled the situation that’s been thrust upon him has been very mature. He’s been very competitive. I think he’s playing pretty good football. I would say the same about Damion.
“We’ll see how it all shakes out at the end of the week. I think both of them give us something, maybe counter each other a little bit.”
Kevin Goheen covers Michigan State for Landof10.com. Follow him on Twitter at @CincyGoGo