In a game more notable for who didn’t play than who did, No. 10 Michigan State scored two touchdowns in the last 2:51 Thursday night to beat No. 12 Pittsburgh 31-21 at the Peach Bowl in Atlanta.
Payton Thorne found Jayden Reed for a 22-yard touchdown pass to wipe out a 21-16 deficit and put the Spartans on top. Cal Haladay thwarted the Panthers’ final drive by intercepting a Davis Beville pass and returning it 78 yards for the clinching score with 22 seconds remaining.
Michigan State (11-2) outscored Pitt 21-0 in the fourth quarter.
Thorne completed 29 of 50 passes for 354 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. Playing without star running back Kenneth Walker III, who opted out to prepare for the NFL draft, the Spartans rushed for just 56 yards on 36 attempts.
Pittsburgh (11-3) didn’t have star quarterback Kenny Pickett, who also opted out to prepare for his pro career. Starter Nick Patti was 2 of 5 for 21 yards before leaving after two drives due to injury. Beville hit on 14 of 18 attempts for 149 yards with a touchdown and the game-sealing pick.
Jordan Addison caught seven passes for 114 yards for the Panthers, while Jalen Nailor had six grabs for 108 yards for the Spartans.
Michigan State took a 7-0 lead just 1:49 into the game, taking advantage of a short field set up by a mishandling of the opening kickoff by Pittsburgh and a 16-yard punt return by Reed. Thorne hooked up with Reed for a 28-yard touchdown.
The Panthers equalized on their next drive, although it wasn’t without significant cost. Patti sustained a game-ending left shoulder injury as he scored on a 16-yard run with 7:57 left in the opening quarter. He returned to the sideline later with a sling protecting the arm.
Matt Coghlan’s 36-yard field goal just over five minutes later gave the Spartans a 10-7 edge, but Beville led a beautiful 87-yard march down the field and gave Pittsburgh a 14-10 halftime lead at the 1:01 mark of the second quarter with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Jared Wayne.
A 26-yard touchdown on a fumble return by Pitt’s Cam Bright on the third play from scrimmage in the second half gave the Panthers a 21-10 edge.
Michigan State cut into the deficit with Thorne’s 15-yard scoring pass to Connor Heyward with 8:06 to play in the game. A two-point conversion pass was unsuccessful, leaving the Spartans behind 21-16.
–Field Level Media