Down 27-26 after missing a two-point conversion, the Chippewas' Bryan Anderson recovered Andrew Aguila's perfectly placed on-side kick near midfield with :25 left and gave Central Michigan another shot at an upset at Spartan Stadium.
Central began its final march with a 9-yard completion to Paris Cotton, then quickly took the first of two remaining timeouts. Antonio Brown caught a 6-yard pass and managed to get out of bounds, stopping the clock with 16 seconds left at the 39-yard line. Brown was not able to reach the sideline after an eight-yard reception on the following play, forcing the Chippewas to take their final timeout with eight seconds left. On second-and-2 at the 31, Aguila lined up for a 47-yard field goal, but Michigan State jumped off-sides, bringing the Chippewas five yards closer. Aguila's field goal capped a four-play, 48-yard drive.
The ensuing kickoff hit the back of a Michigan State player and was recovered by the Chippewas' Tim Brazzel at CMU's 38-yard line, giving Central its third victory over Michigan State.
The Chippewas fought through several hurdles on the previous drive to come within one. Dan LeFevour completed a third-and-9 pass to Anderson that gave CMU a first down by inches at the MSU 22-yard line with 2:11 remaining. On the very next play, LeFevour found a wide open Brown in the front corner of the end zone, but Brown caught the ball a half-step out of bounds. Later on the drive, with 32 seconds remaining, LeFevour connected with Cotton on the left edge of the end zone for an 11-yard touchdown. The play was reviewed and upheld by the officials.
Central's two-point conversion attempt failed as Brown caught the ball while sailing out of bounds in the right front corner of the end zone.
"When we came up short on the two-point conversion, the belief didn't stop on the sideline," CMU head coach Butch Jones said. "We knew that if we could get to the fourth quarter that anything could happen. Everyone on our bench believed we still had a chance."
After CMU had tied the game at 20 with 14:24 left in the fourth quarter, Michigan State put together its longest drive of the game, 13 plays, 80 yards, and 6:51, to regain a 27-20 lead with 7:33 left. The Spartans' offense never touched the ball again.
"I'm really proud of our guys," Jones said. "Aguila came through with two big kicks, and I think it took 25 minutes to kick that last one with eight seconds left. This is win number one. It's a big one and we are going to enjoy it, but we have to go back and get ready for Alcorn State at home next week."
LeFevour completed 33 of his 46 pass attempts for 328 yards and three touchdowns en route to surpassing Byron Leftwich as the Mid-American Conference's all-time leader in total offense. Brown caught 10 passes for 71 yards and a touchdown while Anderson caught six for 120 yards. The Chippewas added 66 yards on the ground to outgain the Spartans 418 to 316 overall.
The Spartans opened the day with a touchdown just five plays into the game, on a 1-yard rush that was set up by a 39-yard completion.
The Chippewas responded on their first possession with an 11-play, 36-yard drive that ended in a 49-yard field goal by Aguila. Michigan State added a 39-yard field goal after a 4-play, 5-yard drive, to take a 10-3 lead with 3:13 left in the first quarter.
Central Michigan drove deep into Spartan territory on their first drive of the second quarter, but LeFevour was intercepted at the 7-yard line. The CMU defense forced a three-and-out, giving the Chippewas a short field to work with on their next drive. Three plays and 36 yards later, LeFevour found Brown in the back of the end zone to give CMU a 13-10 lead 5:49 before halftime.
Michigan State responded with a 4-play, 71-yard drive that resulted in a 16-yard touchdown pass to give the Spartans the lead again, 17-13, with 4:11 remaining in the half.
The Chippewas tied the game at 20 on the second play of the fourth quarter, driving 88 yards on nine plays. After a penalty on the 24-yard kickoff return pushed the Chippewas back to their own 12-yard line, a pair of penalties on the Spartans, a personal foul on second-and-10 and a pass interference call on second-and-six, helped the Chippewas move the ball into Spartan territory. LeFevour completed a 10-yard pass to Anderson on second-and-13 to get the Chippewas to the 17-yard line, and he found Schroeder for a 5-yard gain to convert on third down and put CMU at the 12-yard line. LeFevour's 12-yard touchdown pass up the middle to Kito Poblah made him the MAC's all-time leader in total offense.
"LeFevour was extremely focused all week in practice," Jones said. "There was no one more disappointed in last week than him. He had one of the best weeks of practice that I have seen out of him and he was in a zone today."
The senior quarterback finished the game at 12,166 career yards of total offense, eclipsing Leftwich's total of 12,084. He also moved into 12th on the NCAA's all-time total yards list, passing Louisville's Chris Redman who finished his career with 12,129 yards.