In an Outback Bowl that seemed like it would never end, the finish was especially sweet for the Michigan State Spartans.
Through twists and turns, the Spartans and Georgia Bulldogs played keep-away with the game's momentum. Through three tension-filled overtimes, they competed furiously.
The outcome was decided with a sudden thud.
Georgia place-kicker Blair Walsh attempted a 47-yard field goal that would have forced a fourth overtime, but it was blocked by Anthony Rashad White and the Spartans had a monumental 33-30 victory before an announced crowd of 49,429 at Raymond James Stadium.
For No. 12-ranked Michigan State (11-3), which rallied from a 16-point halftime deficit, it was a fitting finale.
As Spartan players spilled onto the field, senior quarterback Kirk Cousins and Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio smiled at each other and hugged. No words were spoken. No words were needed.
"The standard has been set by our seniors,'' said Dantonio, who oversaw the first Spartans bowl victory since Dec. 31, 2001. "Two 11-win seasons. There aren't too many football teams in the country that are saying that right now.''
"Utter joy,'' said Cousins, a lightly recruited player who committed to Dantonio in 2007, when the Spartans were coming off a 4-8 season. "Our senior class has been able to build this up from irrelevance to hopefully a top-10 ranking. It was the right way to go out.''
For No. 18 Georgia (10-4), which finished on a two-game losing streak after winning 10 straight games, it was a heartbreaking ending. Walsh, who became the SEC's all-time leading scorer, could have won it in the first overtime, but his 42-yard field goal attempt was wide right.
"Right this minute, we're definitely not too thrilled,'' Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said. "In time, this one will heal. … Ten wins was great. Eleven would have been better. … I still think our guys had a good year, not a great year.''
It took a great performance by Michigan State to prevent that.
The Spartans trailed 16-0 at halftime, mostly due to Bulldogs cornerback Brandon Boykin, the game's Most Valuable Player, who forced a safety on Michigan State's first play from scrimmage and set an Outback Bowl record with a 92-yard punt return score in the second quarter.
Michigan State clawed back when Georgia sophomore quarterback Aaron Murray, of Plant High School, served up a pair of third-quarter interceptions to Spartans cornerback Darqueze Dennard. The first set up a touchdown drive. The second was returned by Dennard for a 38-yard touchdown.
The Spartans took their first lead, 20-19, with 8:22 remaining on Cousins' 7-yard pass to Keith Nichol. But Georgia stormed back. Murray found Tavarres King, who had a bowl-record 205 yards on six receptions, for a 53-yard completion. It led to Boykin, referred to as the "Swiss Army knife of Georgia football,'' collecting a 13-yard touchdown pass on third-and-12. With a successful two-pointer, Georgia led 27-20.
With 1:55 remaining, the Spartans took over on their 15-yard line. They were out of timeouts.
"We weren't going out weakly, no three-and-out stuff,'' Spartans senior wide receiver B.J. Cunningham said.
Cousins, in perhaps his finest hour, engineered a 10-play, 85-yard drive. He completed six passes and had a 20-yard scramble. Le'Veon Bell bulled in for a 1-yard touchdown with 14 seconds remaining and Dan Conroy kicked the equalizing extra point.
The first of three overtimes, actually.
Officially, it was Conroy who won it on a 28-yard field goal to open the third overtime. But Walsh's first-OT miss and the game-clinching block will linger in everyone's mind.
"As good as I feel for us, I feel terrible for Blair,'' Conroy said. "As a kicker, you understand how that would feel.''
"I'd trade whatever record I got (SEC's all-time leading scorer) to have the field goal that won this game,'' Walsh said. "I know you can't put everything on one play — a whole lot happened today — but I didn't come through in the clutch. That hurts. If you're with Georgia, you're hurting.''
If you're with Michigan State, you're jubilant.
"I don't even know how to describe it,'' Cousins said. "We made one more play than they did, I guess. It was that close. Incredible!''
And oh so sweet.