How Central Michigan football upset MSU in 2009
Nine years later, Andrew Aguila stills gets the chills.
Down 27-26 with three seconds left and standing 42 yards out, the ball was snapped, received and kicked by Aguila’s right foot from the left hash mark. The football snuck just inside the left post, giving Central Michigan football a historic 29-27 upset victory in East Lansing over Michigan State in the midst of 76,211 fans on Sept. 12, 2009.
Four plays prior, Aguila executed a perfect onside kick to give the ball back to the Chippewas. Quarterback Dan LeFevour threw a two-point conversion pass up for receiver Antonio Brown, but his feet landed out of bounds following the reception. A completed catch would have put the Chippewas ahead with 32 seconds left.
Instead, Aguila was brought on for an onside kick.
Aguila kicked with hopes of two bounces before a significant jump. It was just as he imagined – the ball hopped over diving MSU defender Blair White, giving CMU receiver Bryan Anderson space to stretch out and secure the football.
"They got a great bounce on a great kick," White said after the game. "I misplayed it, and it took a big bounce over my head. I just misjudged it."
The senior kicker watched the center judge point the play dead as his Chippewa teammate erupted in cheers. His special teams coach, Paul Volero, ran onto the field and embraced him with a hug.
“But we didn’t get it,” Aguila remembers saying to Volero, thinking Anderson caught the ball out of bounds or it didn’t go the necessary 10 yards.
“Bullshit,” Volero responded at the top of his lungs. “We got it!”
Turns out, Aguila’s coach was right. The referee was blowing the play dead due to Anderson’s attempt to advance the football, and he mistakenly pointed in Michigan State’s direction to interpret which team had ball security.
As for Aguila’s field goal, it took him two tries before executing on the only one that truly mattered. A Michigan State defender blocked the first kick, but only after a timeout from MSU coach Mark Dantonio. The second went wide left, but an offsides penalty gave Aguila another chance.
The third time hit the charm.
“When I contacted the ball, I swear I hooked it,” Aguila said laughing. “The ball went left and never came back right. It just snuck inside the post.”
While the celebration of a rivalry win was a focal point of the 2009 season, the story of Aguila’s kicks, LeFevour’s record-setting day and Anderson’s late heroics goes much further than just the game-winning moment.
From Thursday, Sept. 10, to right before the game on Saturday, head coach Butch Jones gave the team a series of “David and Goliath” speeches – with Central Michigan as David, and Michigan State as Goliath.
In the locker room before taking the field at Spartan Stadium, Jones gave the final speech. LeFevour, Brown and Anderson looked at each other and shook their heads.
“LeFevour and Brown definitely weren’t David,” Anderson said. “We had all these guys that you wouldn’t look at as the underdog. I felt like we were the Goliath and had every chance to win.”
LeFevour said the group had an exceptional week of practice, team meal the night before and walk-through upon arriving in East Lansing. The senior quarterback knew the Chippewas had a chance.
Michigan State jumped out to a 10-3 lead to start the first quarter on a 1-yard rushing score from Caulton Ray and a field goal from Brett Swenson.
Following a 31-yard field goal from Aguila, LeFevour threw his first touchdown of the game – a 6-yard toss to Brown with 5:49 to play before halftime. CMU took a 13-10 lead.
“We were moving the ball, and the defense was playing well, but we kept having to settle for field goals,” LeFevour said.
Keith Nichol, working in a backup role to MSU starting quarterback Kirk Cousins, put the Spartans back on top just over a minute later on a 16-yard pass to Charlie Gantt. The only points scored in the third quarter was a 32-yard field goal from Swenson to give MSU a 20-13 edge heading into the fourth.
LeFevour and Cousins went back-and-forth to open the fourth quarter. LeFevour spiraled a 12-yard touchdown pass to Kito Poblah, and Cousins responded with a 7-yard touchdown pass.
Brett Hartmann, Aguila’s holder, never seemed to grasp the weight of the game until the final field goal.
“Wouldn’t it be so cool if it came down to a field goal,” Hartmann said with a laugh in the heat of the moment.
“Brett, get your game face on. This actually might happen,” Aguila responded.
With the Chippewas down 27-20 with 32 seconds left, LeFevour delivered. He threw the ball up to the left corner of the end zone, and Paris Cotton hauled it in for an 11-yard score.
The failed two-point conversion brought on Aguila for the onside kick.
Anderson remembers feeling deflated after the failed two-point conversion, but he didn’t have much time to think too deeply. His coaches started yelling for an onside kick, so Anderson lined up as the outermost player on the line to help keep the ball inbounds.
The kick from Aguila felt like a pass to Anderson. He knew without a doubt the ball went 10 yards and remained inbounds.
LeFevour, following the onside kick recovery, threw three-straight completions – one to Cotton and two to Brown – for 23 yards.
Michigan State took a timeout to ice Aguila. Then, the Spartans jumped offsides on a kick Aquila missed wide left.
"Even after the onside kick, we still had a chance," Dantonio said after the game. "All we had to do was not jump offside. But there are no excuses. We got beat. They were better than us."
Before Aguila took the field for the final kick, he had a quick chat with Jones. The third-year head coach’s father passed away the summer before the 2009 season. Carrying his dad’s patient wristband from the hospital with him, Jones showed it to Aguila before the 42-yard field goal.
“My dad’s been with us the entire game,” Jones said to his kicker. “He’s with us right now. You’ve got this.”
While some players may have closed their eyes and turned their heads in worry, LeFevour watched Aguila’s final kick from start to finish. The quarterback had confidence in his kicker, as it wasn’t the first or last time he executed a crunch time field goal.
Aguila got his adrenaline and breathing in check. He swung his right leg toward the ball.
It barely went through.
“Thank Jesus,” Aguila remembers yelling to Hartmann.
Instead of going into full celebration mode, Aguila remained focused because three seconds remained on the clock. He hit a low-squib kick, the ball bounced off a Michigan State kick returner and was secured by the Chippewas.
Aguila finally went crazy, knowing his team officially secured a 29-27 victory over Michigan State.
"I can't say enough about Andrew Aguila," Jones said. "That last-second field goal seemed like an eternity. I think it took about 20 minutes to make a 5-second kick."
LeFevour finished the game 33-of-46 through the air for 328 yards and three touchdowns. During the game, the senior quarterback became the Mid-American Conference all-time leader in total offense and later ended his CMU career with 15,911 yards from scrimmage.
“My whole career was (about) beating an opponent like that,” LeFevour said. “It was almost a feeling of relief. It was one more stamp to put on my career that I didn’t have yet.”
The 2009 season was nowhere near over, as the game against MSU was just Week 2, but it showed CMU’s potential. Including a defeat of the Spartans, the Chippewas went on to win 12 of their last 13 games for a 12-2 record, finishing No. 23 in the AP Top 25.
Central Michigan took down Ohio in the MAC Championship Game before defeating Troy 44-41 in double overtime in the GMAC Bowl at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
Brown played his last game against Troy before being selected in the sixth round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“Our team had 11 guys that went to the NFL, and not every guy was named Antonio Brown with natural talent,” he said. “We had a lot of guys that made themselves into football players. The work ethic from top to bottom made the team unite. Winning cures a lot of stuff, man.”
Nine years following one of the best seasons in CMU history, Brown is still with the Steelers and has been selected to the Pro Bowl six times. LeFevour is retired from professional football after spending time in the NFL and Canadian Football League from 2010-2017. Aguila is a lead in the Samuel Oschin Cancer Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, and Anderson works for Spectrum Health Medical Group as a cardiothoracic surgery physician assistant.
Each one relives moments of his CMU career – especially the 29-27 win against the Spartans in 2009.
Aguila sat down to watch the rivalry game between the same two teams on Sept. 8, 2012. He does not often talk about his playing career but enjoyed the rematch with Michigan State graduate Kyle Cooley, his co-worker’s husband.
“I don’t tell a lot of people I played football because those are special memories for me,” Aguila said. “People in California don’t know about CMU or how big of a deal it was.”
The screen flashed highlights from the game in 2009.
“I was at that game,” Aguila said.
“I was watching it on TV, where were you?” Cooley asked.
“No,” Aguila answered. “I was playing in the game.”
“What position?” he questioned.
“Kicker,” Aguila responded.
“Damnit,” Cooley said, “that was you?”