SI Vault
Dan Jenkins
November 28, 1966
College football awaited an epic that was supposed to decide the national championship. But it all fell apart when Michigan State faltered after a fast start, and Notre Dame took the easy way out
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November 28, 1966

An Upside-down Game

College football awaited an epic that was supposed to decide the national championship. But it all fell apart when Michigan State faltered after a fast start, and Notre Dame took the easy way out

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One interesting thing had happened, though. On an aborted sprintout pass by Spartan Quarterback Jimmy Raye, a flighty junior with a mustache, State had seen something. Split End Gene Washington, one of the surest and fastest receivers in the country, had beaten the Notre Dame deep defenders by 10 yards. Washington, the Big Ten hurdles champion, can outrun most people.

"I can look in a man's eyes and know whether I can beat him," Washington said afterward. "I knew I could beat those guys all day."

Near the end of the first quarter, on first down at his own 27, Raye called the play again. He raced to the right, stopped and fired a bomb. Washington got it for a 42-yard gain. Nine battering ground plays later, with merciless double-team blocking on Notre Dame's fine tackle, Kevin Hardy, State scored. Regis Cavender, who was in for Bob Apisa, crashed over, and it was 7-0.

On its next possession in the second quarter, the Spartans scored again. Raye got away for 30 yards outside right end. And he hit Washington again for 17 yards to reach Notre Dame's 26. A couple more passes failed, however, and the Spartans had to be content with barefoot Place-kicker Dick Kenney's 47-yard field goal.

Michigan State, though it continually appeared as if it might, never got beyond Notre Dame's 47-yard line the rest of the day. John Ray, Notre Dame assistant, felt he knew why. "We weren't getting out of our tracks in the first half," he said. "Maybe we were tight. We told our kids to just start hitting people."

Notre Dame's defense, led by Hardy and Linebackers Jim Lynch and Jim Horney, finished the day with a record of having jammed the talented Spartan runners for either minus-yardage or for no gain on no less than 16 rushing plays. Clinton Jones, of all people, was held to 13 yards on 10 carries, and this is the equivalent of stopping Cassius Clay at mid-punch. Jones and Jim Lynch came together in what may have been the loudest collision of the game. Lynch intercepted a Raye pass and stormed up-field, only to be met by Jones. The halfback hit him at the knees as Lynch tried to hammer into him simultaneously. In the next instant Lynch was turned a perfect flip. He landed on his headgear, fumbled and Jones recovered. The dizzy play, one of many, enabled Michigan State to keep possession and subsequently to get its field goal.

Then, late in the third quarter, Coley O'Brien cranked up a Notre Dame drive that looked like it would surely send the Irish ahead 14-10. With Jim Seymour decoying, he passed to Rocky Bleier for nine yards and to Fullback Larry Conjar, whose blocking was evident all day, for 18 yards right over the center. He passed out in the deep flat to Halfback Dave Haley. Short runs by Haley, Bleier and Conjar moved the ball to the Michigan State 10. With third and three—one of those calls that makes Ara chew his gum like a rabbit—O'Brien tried to pass but did well to scramble to the line of scrimmage. Joe Azzaro then came on to kick the 28-yard field goal that tied the game.

By now, with slow subtlety, the look of things had changed. Michigan State, certainly the better team in the first half, did not seem so sure anymore. Notre Dame had come back. A break or something freaky would decide it now and the wrong team would win. Whoever it was would be wrong. You knew that.

Instantly, the play that should have settled the game did in fact happen. Notre Dame Safety Tom Schoen picked off a wild Jimmy Raye pass—unlike the Irish, the Spartans gambled—and skittered back with it 31 yards to the Spartan 18. Anyone who thought the Irish would pull something besides three straight Larry Conjar plunges and a winning field goal from about the 10- or 15-yard line was in a closed ward somewhere.

Conjar did run on first down. He dug out two yards. But now what's this? Here's Haley going wide to the left on second down, and here's Phil Hoag, completely unmolested, knifing through with Bubba Smith to crack him for an eight-yard loss! The ball isn't on the 16 anymore; it is back on the 24. Now O'Brien fails with a frantic pass and it is fourth down. Joe Azzaro's field-goal try has to be from 42 yards out. It is a couple of feet off to the right, and the swoon of relief in Spartan Stadium makes the structure lean a little.

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