It was a Peach Bowl with numerous great storylines:
- MSU was playing the game without Kenneth Walker – its best running back (who may felt ought to be a Heisman candidate)
- Pitt was playing the game without its starting quarterback Kenny Pickett – who was in fact a Heisman candidate
- Pitt’s coach is Pat Narduzzi – a long-time Spartan assistant before leaving MSU for Pennsylvania
- MSU’s coach – Mel Tucker – led a turnaround of epic proportions in his second season on the job
The game got off to a great start for the Spartans. Pitt mishandled the kickoff and started the game from their own 2 yard line. After going three-and-out, Jayden Reed returned the Panther punt to the 29 yard line.
Three plays later, Payton Thorne dropped a dime to Jayden Reed for the game’s first score.
Pitt answered right back. They ended a 75 yard drive with a 16 yard run by backup quarterback Nick Patti. But his dive into the pylon would be his last play of the game. He injured his shoulder and did not return – leaving Pitt’s offense in the hands of third-string quarterback Davis Beville.
The Spartans turned the next drive into a few points, but not as many as they hoped. MSU drove as deep as Pitt’s 8 yard line, but a false start pushed them back five yards and the Spartans had to settle for a field goal.
MSU’s next drive was even worse. A spectacular 50 yard grab by Jalen Nailor put the Spartans just four yards from a touchdown. But a sack and an incomplete pass forced them to try at 33 yard field goal, which they missed.
Then, two drives later, Thorne threw an interception which dashed the hopes of another score.
Pitt took the interception and with the help of a 52 yard pass, drove 87 yards in 1:01 to take a 14-10 lead into the half.
It got worse. MSU got the ball to start the second half, but after a bomb that went incomplete, Thorne was sacked, fumbled, and Pitt recovered the fumble for a touchdown to put the Panthers up 21-10.
The 3rd quarter was largely a defensive battle, with the Spartans giving up the next series on downs and the next five ended with the teams trading punts.
MSU got back in the game with a 3rd and goal strike (from the 15 yard line) for a touchdown to make it 21-16 with about 8 minutes left. But a penalty on the 2 point conversion pushed MSU back five yards, and the Spartans failed to convert.
But MSU turned it around with less than three minutes to go. The converted three consecutive third downs and ended the drive with a spectacular catch by Jayden Reed for 22 yards and a touchdown. This time, the Spartans converted the 2 point conversion to take a 24-21 lead.
Pitt got the ball back with 2:51 left needing field goal to tie and a touchdown to retake the lead. The Panthers drove deep, but their hopes ended with a pick 6 by Cal Haliday to put the game out of reach with 22 seconds left.
The final score: MSU 31-Pitt 21.
Be sure to tune in to 6 News for highlights and reaction from the locker room.