ATLANTA – The Pittsburgh football team knew they would do without star quarterback Kenny Pickett for the Peach Bowl, but the No.12 Panthers were confident No.12 Nick Patti would lead them to win No.12 for only the second time in the history of the program.
That wasn’t supposed to be the case, as Patti left early in the first quarter after breaking her collarbone on a 16-yard touchdown. Michigan state won with a 31-21 victory at the Peach Bowl Thursday night in Atlanta.
The Panthers led 21-10 in the fourth quarter before Michigan State, led by quarterback Payton Thorne, made a comeback.
“Obviously, not the way we wanted to end the season. It is never easy. The kids played in line, didn’t give up at all, ”Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said after the game. “Not the way you wanted your elders to come out.”
The Spartans started their comeback with a 13-play, 70-yard practice that ended with a 15-yard touchdown reception by tight end Connor Heyward. Michigan State chose to aim for two to shoot within three, but the attempt was unsuccessful with a false start penalty. Michigan State trailed 21-16 with eight minutes left.
Michigan State recovered the ball following a three-and-out attack from Pitt. Thorne connected with Jayden Reed for a 22-yard touchdown to top off an 11-play, 71-yard practice that gave the Spartans their first lead since the end of the first half. Jalen Nailor passed the two-point conversion try, giving Michigan State a 24-21 lead.
“We have been on the field defensively for too long. We lost possession time by more than 10 minutes, ”said Narduzzi. “You’re hoping your defense will stop them (on the two long touchdowns), but we just weren’t fresh enough and didn’t make enough defensive plays to get off the pitch.”
The Panthers still had one shot with almost three minutes to go and only needed to get into the shooting range to equalize. Third-string quarterback Davis Beville completed 5 of 5 passes on the route to bring the Panthers to the Michigan state’s 26-yard line, but was intercepted on his sixth pass attempt of the route. Linebacker Cal Haladay ran the interception for 78 yards for a touchdown, giving the Spartans a 31-21 lead with 22 seconds left, sealing the victory for Michigan State.
“In our blank eyes, they attacked, put two backs in the box. I took a step forward, I thought (Haladay) was coming, I tried to put him right behind him, he backed up and made a great game. Give him all the credit, ”said Beville.
Beville finished the game completing 14 of 18 passes for 149 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
“Davis did a great job, as good as you’d expect a third-team quarterback to do. It wasn’t good enough to win the game,” Narduzzi said. “We didn’t. just haven’t made enough plays in all phases Never lie with a guy or a quarterback You need guys around you who play better We didn’t do that today.
Beville has also been sacked five times as Michigan State lobbied a lot at four. Narduzzi said Pitt’s offensive line just didn’t perform well enough.
“I don’t think they played as well as they should,” Narduzzi said. ” They know that. When playing with a second and third string quarterback, that O-line needs to step up and play better than it did.
After Pitt came out three times in his first possession of the game, the Spartans only needed three games to get a 7-0 lead as Thorne hit Reed for a 28-yard touchdown. The Panthers hit back with a 12-play, 75-yard drive that ended with Patti scrambling for 16 yards. Patti appeared to land awkwardly on her left side near the pylon and immediately walked out into the locker room. He then returned to the sidelines with his left arm in a sling as Beville took on the signal calling duties.
Narduzzi revealed the nature of Patti’s injury after the game.
“A freak accident, I guess. That’s what happens when you touch the ground a little weirdly, ”Narduzzi said, adding that Patti would have her collarbone surgery on Friday. “He wanted to come back and play. Our doctors were not going to let that happen.
The Spartans regained the lead in their next practice when Matt Coghlin put in a 36-yard field goal. Pitt’s next three offensive practices all ended in punters, but Michigan State was unable to extend their lead. The Spartans’ next three practices ended with a missed basket, a punt and an interception.
With two minutes to go in the first half, strong Pitt defenseman Brandon Hill knocked out Thorne at Pitt’s 12-yard line. The Panthers covered 87 yards in six games with Beville hitting wide receiver Jared Wayne in the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown. Biletnikoff Award winner Jordan Addison had another highlight play on the disc when he caught a 19-yard strike from Beville as four Spartan defensemen were nearby. Addison crossed the field and eluded several other Michigan state defensemen, the game resulting in a 52-yard gain.
The Panthers took a 14-10 halftime lead after Wayne’s score.
“I think most people thought that with a third-string quarterback we weren’t going to be able to win on the court. We did it, ”Narduzzi said.
Michigan State got the ball to start the second half, but in the third game of the Spartans push, Thorne came under pressure from defensive linemen Pitt, Calijah Kancey and John Morgan. Morgan forced a fumble, which linebacker Cam Bright recovered for a 26-yard touchdown and a score to give the Panthers a 21-10 lead.
Both attacks looked flat for the remainder of the third quarter before the Spartans came to life in the fourth to score 21 unanswered points to secure the victory.
• Michigan State improved its record against Pitt to an all-time 7-0-1.
• Pitt’s top forward Israel Abanikanda left the game with an undisclosed injury.
• Wide receiver Jordan Addison finished the game with seven catches for 114 yards, his eighth 100-yard game of the season.
• Pitt’s bowl record under Pat Narduzzi fell to 1-4 with the loss of the Peach Bowl. The Panthers won the 2019 Quick Lane Bowl over Eastern Michigan for the only bowl victory of the Narduzzi era.
• The Panthers end the season with 11 wins for the first time since 1981.