As the Rutgers football team took the field at SHI Stadium one last time in the program’s game against Michigan State on Saturday afternoon, certain members of the Scarlet Knights (2-9, 0-8) were able to relish in the pregame ceremonies that would give the seniors a heartwarming reunion with their family members at the center of the field.
Taking place before any of the team’s playing that would lead to an eventual 27-0 shutout win for the Spartans (5-6, 3-5), team members of Rutgers were able to take in the playing environment at the Banks that has surely seen both its good and rough times for the program.
Fifth-year senior offensive lineman Zach Venesky, a member of the Knights since 2015, felt the moment was more of a conclusion of everything he had worked for the past five years leading up to Saturday.
“It’s a big thing for me. I started something and wanted to finish it. There’s no taking the easy way out, so it was definitely important to finish,” Venesky said.
During the game itself, it was clear Venesky’s words would have some merit to them, as Michigan State would provide Rutgers with many opportunities to take the easy way out. A few of them would occur in the first half.
After winning the coin toss and electing to kick off to start the game, the Knights placed the Spartans in good field position at the 35-yard line with a kick from true freshman kicker Guy Fava that sailed out of bounds.
From there, the storyline would be all Michigan State.
With Brian Lewerke connecting with Cody White a total of 10 times in the first half, the Spartans would haul in two touchdowns in the first two quarters that would help their team take an early 17-0 lead.
Rutgers seemingly had no answer for Michigan State’s season leader in receiving yards, as interim head coach Nunzio Campanile believed White was a difficult player to handle since his usual starting cornerback, senior Damon Hayes, was available only for limited action in the first two quarters.
“Very good player,” Campanile said in reference to White. “Damon didn’t play a whole lot in the first half … (He) dealt with some personal stuff this week, missed a little practice. Thought it was the right thing for him not to start.”
While the decision made by Campanile would certainly prove to be consequential, in regards to the effects of it throughout the first half, the Knights hoped to come out in the third quarter with a chance to flip the script after a heartening half-time speech from team alumnus and number retiree Eric LeGrand.
It turned out to be more of the same in the second half, though. While Rutgers was finally able to get first downs in the second half, after accumulating zero in the first half, the team was not able to capitalize with any points. In the opening drive of the third quarter, redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Langan was able to drive the Knights to the Spartan’s 43-yard line. He was also sacked for three yards, killing any positive momentum that Rutgers had coming out of the break.
After adding another field goal, Michigan State left its mark on the fourth quarter with another touchdown. Lewerke connected again with White for a seven-yard touchdown, bringing the score to 27-0. Neither team would score for the remainder of the game.
Looking ahead, the Knights will close out the season on Saturday with an away matchup against Penn State. After that, the Rutgers fanbase will look forward to significant changes made in the offseason. The first priority will search for a new head coach, in light of negotiations with Greg Schiano falling through.
“We made some critical plays to keep ourselves in the game on defense,” Campanile said. “We really could not do a whole lot on offense to give ourselves a chance to win the game."
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