ATLANTA (AP) — Michigan State capped its turnaround from from a two-win season with a fourth-quarter comeback in the Peach Bowl.
Payton Thorne’s 22-yard touchdown pass to Jayden Reed gave No. 11 Michigan State the lead with less than three minutes remaining and the Spartans overcame an 11-point deficit to beat No. 13 Pittsburgh 31-21 on Thursday night in the Peach Bowl.
Led by Thorne, the Spartans outscored the Panthers 21-0 in the final quarter.
“The whole game, my teammates just kept telling me to stay up and keep chopping like we talk about,” Thorne said.
Linebacker Cal Haladay’s 78-yard interception return for a touchdown with 22 seconds remaining ended Pitt fill-in quarterback Davis Beville’s bid for a last-minute comeback in the game the Panthers played without star QB Kenny Pickett.
Thorne threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes as Michigan State (11-2) rallied after trailing 21-10.
“We got stronger and stronger as the game went,” second-year coach Mel Tucker said. “We ... were able to find a way to get it done.”
Michigan State finished 2-5 in its pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
Cam Bright returned a fumble recovery 26 yards for a touchdown only 20 seconds into the second half for Pittsburgh (11-3). The Panthers lost fill-in starting quarterback Nick Patti to a broken collarbone in the first quarter.
Defensive end John Morgan forced the fumble by Michigan State quarterback Payton Thorne that was returned by Bright for a 21-10 lead.
It was the second big play by Pitt’s defense. Brandon Hill’s interception late in the first half set up an 87-yard touchdown drive for a 14-10 lead.
Thorne’s 15-yard scoring pass to tight end Connor Heyward cut the Panthers’ lead to 21-16 with 8:06 remaining. The Spartans were stopped on their 2-point play, with Heyward kept out of the end zone on another reception.
Thorne completed 29 of 50 passes for 354 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. Thorne’s scoring pass to Reed with 2:51 remaining gave the Spartans a 22-21 lead. A 2-point pass to Jalen Nailor pushed the lead to three points.
With Pickett, who opted out of the game after finishing third in the Heisman Trophy voting, watching from a coach’s box, the Panthers’ transition at quarterback quickly took on added drama.
Making his first start since 2019, Patti was knocked out of the game in the first quarter.
On third down from the Michigan State 16 on the Panthers’ second possession, Patti dropped back before taking off on a run and diving for the end zone, reaching out for the touchdown before landing hand on his left shoulder.
Patti grabbed his shoulder after rising to his feet and was escorted to the Pitt locker room. When he returned later in the first half, he was not wearing shoulder pads and his left arm was in a sling.
Beville took over for Patti and completed 14 of 18 passes for 149 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
“Davis did a great job, as good as you expect a third-team quarterback to do,” said Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi. “Wasn’t good enough to win the football game.”
Brandon Hill’s interception of Thorne’s pass for Maliq Carr gave Pitt the ball at its 13, setting up the 87-yard touchdown drive.
Beville completed passes of 10 and 52 yards to Jordan Addison, the Biletnikoff Award winner as the nation’s top wide receiver, against Michigan State’s pass defense, which ranked last in the nation. Beville’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Jared Wayne gave the Panthers a 14-10 halftime lead.
Addison had seven catches for 114 yards.