EAST LANSING, Mich. - Notre Dame looked beaten and Michigan State looked unstoppable.
Then, in a stunning turn of events, cornerback Terrail Lambert capped a furious rally by returning an interception 19 yards for a touchdown with 2:53 remaining to give the 12th-ranked Fighting Irish a 40-37 victory over the Spartans on Saturday night.
The loss stunned Michigan State (3-1) and its pumped-up fans, who remained in the stands despite heavy rain in the second half, convinced they were going to see the Spartans beat the Irish (3-1) for the eighth time in 10 games.
But it wasn't to be.
Lambert made sure of that, following up his score by ending the Spartans' hopes moments later with a juggling interception of Drew Stanton's pass in the closing seconds of the game.
"Late in the game, I made some stupid mistakes," Stanton said.
That the decisive plays came from the Irish defense, exposed in a blowout loss to Michigan last week and for much of the game Saturday, may have been the most surprising development.
But the Irish offense also clicked late, led by quarterback Brady Quinn.
Quinn started slow, going just 2-of-8 for 6 yards in the first quarter as Michigan State jumped out to a 17-0 lead.
But he finished 20-of-36 for 319 yards with five TDs against one interception.
"Give all the credit to Notre Dame," Michigan State running back Javon Ringer said. "They stepped up when they had to."
The Irish trailed 37-21 entering the fourth quarter. But Quinn threw TD passes to Jeff Samardzija (43 yards) and Rhema McKnight (14 yards) to cut the lead to 37-33 with 4:57 remaining.
Michigan State's Jehuu Caulcrick finished with 111 yards and a TD on eight carries. Stanton ran for 53 yards, and completed 10 of 22 passes for 114 yards. He had two TD passes and the two interceptions.
Michigan State looked like it might continue its recent good fortune against the Irish, which included a 44-41 overtime victory in South Bend last year after which a few Spartan players planted a school flag near midfield.
The Spartans led this one 31-14 at halftime and looked as if they should be preparing for another postgame celebration.
"When we went into halftime we said if we don't play 30 minutes of complete football we have no chance." Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said.