EAST LANSING, Michigan (Ticker) -- Tyrone Willingham already has done what Bob Davie never did at Notre Dame - beat Michigan State.
Backup quarterback Pat Dillingham tossed a 60-yard touchdown pass to Arnaz Battle with 1:15 remaining as 12th-ranked Notre Dame snapped a five-game losing streak to Michigan State and remained unbeaten with a wild 21-17 victory.
Dillingham, a former walk-on who was recruited by Willingham at Stanford before opting to enroll at Notre Dame, was forced into the game when Carlyle Holiday suffered a shoulder injury when he landed hard out of bounds late in the third quarter.
"We do the two-minute drill every day in practice," said Dillingham, a sophomore who did not play at all last season. "We just ran our stuff. There's no reason to get nervous."
It appeared that Notre Dame (4-0) was going to suffer another heartbreaking loss to the Spartans. Just 30 seconds earlier, Michigan State had taken a 17-14 lead when Charles Rogers made a spectacular grab 21-yard grab from Jeff Smoker in the back of the end zone on a fourth-down pass.
Notre Dame improved to 4-0 for the first time since 1993 and Willingham, who defeated his alma mater, joined Frank Leahy (1941) and Ara Parseghian (1964) as the only Notre Dame coaches to win their first four games.
Davie lost all five of his games to Michigan State before being fired after last season.
"The great thing about this one is that we have a bye," Willingham said. "At least we can think about this one until Monday."
It was the second straight loss for Michigan State (2-2), which was routed at home last week by California, 46-22. The Spartans were trying to become the first opponent to beat Notre Dame in six consecutive seasons.
Smoker drove the Spartans to Notre Dame's 47 on their final series, but safety Jerome Sapp sealed the victory with his second interception on the last play of the game.
"It's a very, very disappointing loss," Michigan State coach Bobby Williams said. "I challenged them at halftime and we came out and got some things going. It's just unfortunate that we couldn't sustain what we got and lost at the end."
Dillingham's late TD to Battle evened the score for Notre Dame's last-second 27-21 loss to Michigan State in its last visit to East Lansing in 2000. In that game, Smoker threw a 68-yard TD pass to Herb Haygood on fourth-and-10 in the final minutes.
"The past couple times they've beaten us it's been on a slant pattern for a TD at the end of the game," Battle said. "It was nice to do the same thing against them. My teammates left it out on the field today."
Willingham, a 1977 graduate of Michigan State, downplayed beating his alma mater.
"I don't put much stock into coming back to Michigan State," he said. "This is another football game for our football team. There is no nostalgia. There is no emotional tie."
Holiday completed just 5-of-17 passes for 84 yards, but Notre Dame appeared to be in control for three quarters.
Sapp's first interception in the final minute of the first half set up Holiday's 15-yard pass to Maurice Stovall with 11 seconds left that gave the Irish a 14-3 lead at the intermission.
But Rogers, regarded by many as the top receiver in the country, took over in the final quarter. After a sluggish first half in which he had a number of drops, Rogers finished with seven receptions for 75 yards. He played most of the fourth quarter with bruised ribs.
Smoker completed 19-of-33 passes, throwing for 181 of his 280 yards in the final period.
The Spartans closed to 14-10 with 13:22 remaining when Smoker tossed a 38-yard TD strike to Rogers, who tied an NCAA record by catching a touchdown pass in his 12th straight game. He matched the mark shared by Randy Moss, Desmond Howard and Aaron Taylor.
Dillingham, who finished 3-of-6 for 84 yards, drove Notre Dame into Michigan State territory on his third possession. But he threw an ill-advised pass that was intercepted safety Thomas Wright inside the 5 with 5:54 left.
Notre Dame could not stop Michigan State as Smoker drove the Spartans 97 yards in 10 plays. Rogers caught three passes on the drive, including the touchdown in which he made a leaping grab and managed to get his left foot down inbounds.
But the Irish needed only three plays to answer. Dillingham dumped off a pass in the flat to Battle, who raced down the left sideline.
"Before the last drive, Ty said, 'I've done this a million times in practice and to stay calm and execute,'" Dillingham said.
Ryan Grant led Notre Dame on the ground with 90 yards on 17 carries. David Richard paced Michigan State with 70 yards on 15 attempts.