EAST LANSING, Michigan — After leading Nebraska on an improbable rally in the fourth quarter — and throwing the interception that halted it — Tommy Armstrong was eager for another shot at Michigan State.
"That's not the last time they're going to see us. I promise you that," Armstrong said. "We plan on going 11-1 and making the Big Ten championship, and plan on playing Michigan State again."
Trae Waynes intercepted Armstrong's pass with 30 seconds remaining, and No. 10 Michigan State held off the No. 19 Cornhuskers 27-22 on Saturday night. The Spartans led 27-3 heading into the fourth quarter before three Nebraska touchdowns set up a tense finish.
A 43-yard pass to Alonzo Moore gave the Huskers the ball at the Michigan State 37 with just under a minute to play. But on a day when several top teams lost in wild upsets, Nebraska (5-1, 1-1 Big Ten) couldn't finish this comeback. Armstrong's pass to the end zone fell incomplete, and Waynes then came up with his second interception of the game.
"We lost the football game. I don't care if it was by 30 or by five," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. "I'm not into moral victories. We lost the football game and we need to get better."
The Spartans (4-1, 1-0) shut down Nebraska's vaunted running game, and the Cornhuskers didn't score in the first half despite three Michigan State turnovers in its own territory. Tony Lippett caught a 55-yard touchdown pass from Connor Cook in the first quarter, and when he scored on a 32-yard reverse, Michigan State was up 27-3 with 2:02 remaining in the third.
But Nebraska star Ameer Abdullah, who was held to 45 yards rushing, scored on a pair of short runs in the fourth, and De'Mornay Pierson-El returned a punt 62 yards for a touchdown to make it 27-22 with 3:22 remaining. It might have been closer, but Nebraska attempted a pair of 2-point conversions in the fourth and missed them both.
Michigan State recovered an onside kick but couldn't run out the clock. With Nebraska out of timeouts, Jeremy Langford was forced out of bounds, stopping the clock with 1:12 remaining and bringing up fourth down. Then Michael Geiger's 36-yard field goal attempt missed, bouncing off the left upright and crossbar.
That gave Nebraska the ball at its own 20, but the Spartans held on.
"Football is a crazy, crazy game," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. "Maybe that's why everybody loves it so much."
Nebraska entered the game ranked No. 2 in the nation in rushing, and Michigan State was No. 4 in rushing defense. That matchup wasn't much of a contest. The Huskers managed only 47 yards on the ground — they had been averaging 355.
Cook's pass was intercepted on his first attempt, but Nebraska went three and out and punted, a wasted opportunity that set the tone for the half. Lippett slipped free deep down the left sideline and caught Cook's pass for a 7-0 lead later in the first quarter.
Langford's 31-yard scoring run made it 14-0 in the second, but his fumble later in the half gave Nebraska the ball at the Michigan State 41.
Again the Cornhuskers couldn't take advantage, but their punt was fumbled by Macgarrett Kings, giving Nebraska the ball at the 24. The Huskers were inside the 10 when Abdullah's fumble ended that drive.
It was 17-0 at halftime.
Abdullah had rushed for over 200 yards in each of his previous two games, but he was barely a factor in this one until the fourth quarter.
Huskers wide receiver Kenny Bell was hurt in the first half and did not return. He aggravated a groin injury.
Michigan State center Jack Allen was ejected in the fourth quarter for a second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.