A New Year’s Six bowl game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia; the dream for No. 10 Michigan State and No. 12 Pitt as they battle for the title of 2021 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl champions. But Atlanta would grant only one wish, and it would favor the Spartans this time around.
The heart-pounding 31-21 victory came in the game’s final minutes.
MSU came out firing when Payton Thorne found Jayden Reed with a 28-yard pass just two minutes in to put them up 7-0.
But that’s when the momentum started to shift.
It’s a known fact that Kenneth Walker III was a massive contributor to the MSU offense this season, and his absence was felt from the beginning. For a team that’s been rushing the ball like no other all season long, that part of their game tonight just wasn’t there. How can it be when your award-winning runningback isn’t playing? The glue that held them together through ten wins had dried up.
100 total rushing yards on the night from a combined five players. They were trying anything to get the ball moving on the ground, and it was not happening.
Pitt finished the first half off STRONG, and that momentum kept them rolling in the second when Cam Bright recovered an MSU fumble and took it straight to the house, a 26-yard run to put the Panthers up 21-10. At that point, Pitt fans were dominating the scene, and the green and white had nearly shut the doors on any semblance of hope for a victory.
But Pitt’s struggles with the quarterback position started to shine through nearing the end. Nikki Patti, who replaced Heisman finalist Kenny Pickett, made the wrong move on his 16-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and ended the night with the pads off and his right arm in a sling. This meant third-string Davis Beville would strap up and take over.
For MSU, this would have been the time to put the foot on the gas and not let off, but that’s didn’t happen. A quiet third quarter left the Spartan fans hoping for more. It wouldn’t have been until the end of the fourth quarter that had their hearts racing.
Three touchdowns in the fourth, and that would seal it for the Spartans. The Georgia native Connor Heyward found himself in the endzone to bring MSU out of their scoring drought. Jayden Reed would capture his second of the night, and quite arguably best of all … Cal Haladay, with 22 seconds left on the clock, secures himself a pick-six. What is it with the Spartans making clutch interceptions at the end of a huge game? (*cough cough* Michigan)
It is a game of ups and downs, a rollercoaster of emotions for both teams and fans. But the Spartans have kept choppin’ all season long, and that’s exactly what they had to do to win in Atlanta.
Jayden Reed would secure offensive player of the game with Cal Haladay as his cohort on the defensive end.
The Spartans end their season showered in green and white confetti, boasting an 11-2 record, only the fifth time that milestone has been reached in program history. What a game, what a win, and what a season for Mel Tucker and his Spartans.