LOS ANGELES — Can every fairy tail season truly have a memorable storybook ending? If you saw what transpired during the 100th annual Rose Bowl Game on Wednesday night in Pasadena Ca., you have to believe that is true.
What else could explain Michigan State’s unforgettable 24-20 win over Stanford and the performance of senior linebacker Kyler Elsworth.
You’re forgiven for asking, Kyler who? Before the suspension of senior captain and All-Big Ten linebacker Max Bullough, Elsworth was a footnote on opposing teams scouting reports. A former walk-on who earned a wrestling scholarship at Michigan State, Elsworth instead chose to pay his own way to begin college and stick with his true love, football. The 6-foot-1, 225 pound Elsworth spent the past five seasons in East Lansing playing behind the likes of Bullough and former All-American Greg Jones, patiently waiting for his moment to shine.
“When I found out I was going to be starting this game, I wanted to make sure I was ready for this and I prepared myself properly for this moment,” Elsworth said.
That preparation paid off in a huge way as the former walk-on responded with four tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss, but it was one play in particular that changed the game and helped seal the Spartans’ first Rose Bowl win in 26 years.
Facing a fourth-and-one with 1:46 remaining in the game, Stanford handed the ball off to fullback Ryan Hewitt, but Elsworth leaped into the air over the pile of linemen and met Hewitt head on, securing the tackle and ultimately the win for Michigan State.
“I knew the way to make a play was for me to go over the top,” Elsworth said. “I was fortunate enough to make the right read. I’m glad that he handed it off, otherwise I don’t know that we’d be celebrating and that we would be talking right now.”
Elsworth played a huge role in Michigan State’s ability to stop Stanford’s running game in the second half. After totaling 102 yards on the ground in the first half, Stanford managed just 60 yards on the ground after halftime.
Credit a defense who was missing its leader, but found a willing replacement who had been waiting patiently to have his own “one shining moment.”
Asked about the fact that he was so close to choosing wrestling over football in college, Elsworth responded, “A lot of people told me I was crazy at the time. But you know what? All I can think now is… Who’s crazy now. I have played in the Rose Bowl and won the Rose Bowl. You can’t beat that.”
I guess it is true after all. Fairy tail seasons really do have storybook endings.
This one certainly did.