It was as improbable a win as any.
The Spartans came back from a 20-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win 42-41 in the Cotton Bowl against Baylor on Tuesday.
The comeback was capped when Connor Cook hit Keith Mumphery for a 10-yard touchdown on third down with just 17 seconds left in the game. The score was put in motion when senior Marcus Rush burst through the Baylor offensive line to block Chris Callahan’s 43-yard field goal with 1:05 left. Junior R.J. Williamson scooped up the miss and ran it back 36 yards to the Baylor 45.
Cook hit Mumphery on the first play of the drive for 18 yards, but missed three straight. On fourth down, Cook hit senior Tony Lippett for 17 yards and a first down. After two incompletions, he found Mumphery to give MSU the win.
The comeback got started early in the fourth after Callahan’s 46-yard field goal hit the upright. Cook and Mumphery connected on the first play for 50 yards and four plays later, Josiah Price made a touchdown grab on a throw into a tight window for an 8-yard score to pull MSU within 41-28.
MSU went to an onside kick and Jermaine Edmondson recovered it at the MSU 47. Cook – with another big play to open a drive – hit Aaron Burbridge for 39 yards, but under pressure on the next play, he attempted to shovel pass the ball away, but it was intercepted by Baylor’s Taylor Young. Young returned it for a touchdown, but the play was called back due to a block in the back.
On fourth-and-6, Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty’s pass for K.D. Cannon fell incomplete. It took 11 plays, but the Spartans drove down the field and Cook set up Michigan State at the 1-yard line with a 10-yard run.
Senior Jeremy Langford powered in for his third touchdown of the game to pull MSU closer to 41-35.
With 4:55 to go, Petty promptly hit wide receiver Levi Norwood for a 31-yard pass and Baylor looked like it might run out the clock. Petty connected with wide receiver Corey Coleman on second-and-11 and Coleman raced down to the MSU 1-yard line, but the play was called back for an offensive facemask as he grabbed a handful of Lippett’s facemask. Baylor’s Spencer Drango was then called for a false start, setting the Bears back to the MSU 27.
Taking advantage of the second life, Taiwan Jones stuffed running back Johnny Jefferson for a four-yard loss to the MSU 30. On third down, Petty threw a swing pass out to Antwan Goodley, but Williamson came up in support and stopped him for a three-yard gain.
That set up the field-goal attempt, as Rush just bulled his way through the line and got a hand on the field goal.
After the final Michigan State touchdown, Baylor got the ball at its 25 with 17 seconds left. Lawrence Thomas came up the middle and sacked Petty for a six-yard loss then Rush and Riley Bullough combined for a seven-yard sack. On third-and-23, Bullough intercepted Petty’s pass at the Baylor 20 to complete the comeback.
It was the fourth bowl win for the senior class, which won its 42nd game to tie the 2013 class as the winningest in Michigan State history.
It also was the fourth time the Spartans had to comeback to win a bowl game. The Spartans trailed 16-0 to Georgia in 2011, 13-0 to Texas Christian in 2012 and 10-0 to Stanford in 2013. This time, they trailed 41-21 entering the fourth, but it barely felt that close for the Spartans.
Early on, Michigan State came out on fire after uncharacteristically electing to receive the opening kickoff.
A 65-yard Langford run to the Baylor 1 set up his rushing touchdown on third down as he scampered in untouched for a quick 7-0 lead for MSU.
But Baylor came back quickly with what started as a methodical drive and concluded with a 49-yard touchdown pass from Petty to Cannon.
R.J. Shelton got the Spartans back ahead with an 11-yard touchdown run as Cook went 3 for 3 for 42 yards on the drive.
The Bears again responded, this time with a little trickery. After a quick first down, Petty threw a quick lateral to Jay Lee, who threw downfield to an open Coleman for a 53-yard score to tie the game 14-14.
After an MSU fake field goal fell short, Baylor put another scoring drive together. The Bears went for it on fourth-and-2 and it looked like MSU had a turnover on downs, but Mylan Hicks was flagged for defensive holding to keep the drive alive. Petty capitalized as he ran in from the 1 to give Baylor a 21-14 lead.
Callahan hit a 25-yard field goal to put the Bears ahead 24-14 going into the half.
It took just 28 seconds for Baylor to strike after halftime, as Petty hit a wide-open Cannon for a 74-yard touchdown and a 31-14 lead.
Michigan State promptly went three-and-out as Cook missed badly on a pair of throws. But the defense made a stop on third-and-10 as Shilique Calhoun brought down Petty for a five-yard loss. Baylor settled for a 46-yard field goal from Callahan to go up 34-14.
The Spartans responded with a touchdown drive – their first since the second drive of the game, marking five empty drives. A big 17-yard third-down conversion from Cook to Shelton kept the drive alive. On the next play, Lippett got the ball on a reverse and ran for 19 yards down to the Baylor eight. Langford ran three straight times and punched it in for a 2-yard score to pull within 34-21.
Michigan State had an opportunity to swing the game when Calhoun and Joel Heath burst through for another sack and forced a Petty fumble, but Drango recovered it at the Baylor 11. Petty then hit Cannon for 45 yards down the sideline and the Bears were back rolling. Petty then hit offensive guard Cal Spangler for an 18-yard score to put Baylor up 41-21.
MSU responded and got a drive going, but Cook threw into double coverage near the goal line and Baylor’s Quan Jones intercepted the pass after it was deflected. Jones ran it 21 yards back to the Baylor 23 and MSU’s Donavon Clark was flagged for a personal foul, moving the ball to the 38.
But from there, Michigan State took over. Cook bounced back from a pair of bad interceptions to lead the Spartans back.
Langford finished with 162 yards on 27 carries with three touchdowns. Cook threw for 314 yards on 24 of 42 passing for two scores with two picks.
Bryce Petty set a Cotton Bowl record with 550 passing yards on 36 of 51 passing.