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MSU comes back to win the Cotton Bowl, 'never lost belief'

January 1, 2015
<p>Head coach Mark Dantonio holds the trophy and celebrates the win with his team Jan. 1, 2015, during The Cotton Bowl Classic football game against Baylor at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Spartans defeated the Bears and claimed the Cotton Bowl Victory, 42-41. Erin Hampton/The State News</p>

Head coach Mark Dantonio holds the trophy and celebrates the win with his team Jan. 1, 2015, during The Cotton Bowl Classic football game against Baylor at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Spartans defeated the Bears and claimed the Cotton Bowl Victory, 42-41. Erin Hampton/The State News

Photo by Erin Hampton | The State News

ARLINGTON, TX -- The clock read 4:03 remaining in the third quarter when 390 pound lineman LaQuan McGowan scored on an 18 yard touchdown reception to give Baylor a 41-21 lead in the 79th Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic.

That was enough for MSU. They decided to do something about it.

21 unanswered points ensued, including the go-ahead touchdown with 17 seconds left on a 10-yard pass from junior quarterback Connor Cook to senior wide receiver Keith Mumphery. After that, all that was left was the confetti.

"I really can't put it into words," head coach Mark Dantonio said. "We knew they had a good football team. And when they made a play, we regrouped and kept trying to play."

It was the largest bowl comeback under Mark Dantonio.

"It's fitting," senior punter Mike Sadler said. "We found a way to claw back, there is just not a better group than these guys."

It may have been fitting but it wasn't always pretty. MSU gave up 603 yards passing which included scoring plays of 49, 53 and 74 yards. Connor Cook threw two interceptions, one of which could have cost the Spartans the game because it killed a momentum building drive in the fourth quarter.

Despite that, senior safety Kurtis Drummond said everyone remained positive on the sideline.

"You know it was funny," he said. "You just kind of felt the vibe around the team remain positive, people were still jumping up and down and dancing, we just never let ourselves get down."

The Comeback

Players had a hard time agreeing on which play sparked the comeback, but they all agree at some point the momentum changed, and it changed in favor of MSU.

"I think it was probably the kickoff," senior defensive end Marcus Rush said. After a touchdown made it 41-28 Dantonio put decided to go for a surprise onside kick that MSU recovered.

"Even though we didn't score on that drive," Rush said. "I think that's when things started going our way."

Senior wide receiver Tony Lippett said it was hard right after the fact to point to a moment, but he said the blocked field goal was probably what sparked the team.

"I don't really know," he said. "But I do know that return by R.J. was great, it set us up."

With less than two minutes to play Baylor lined up for a 43 yard field goal that would have put Baylor up 44-35, and probably would have put the game out of reach. What happened was a blocked field goal that was recovered by R.J. Williamson, setting up what would be the game winning drive.

The adversity

Before the pass from Cook with 17 seconds left fell into the hands of Mumphrey, the game looked to be well in Baylor's hands.

The first four possessions were track meets, MSU used balance while Baylor scored quickly and before everyone could find their seats the game was tied at 14.

After that, Baylor looked like a team the College Football Playoff committee missed out on.

"They had some big plays on us," he said. "But they're a timing team. You're going to play with your back to the ball a lot the way they throw the ball, so nobody has really stopped them."

Baylor threw for 603 yards on MSU, with 550 coming from senior Bryce Petty, which is a new Cotton Bowl record.

"(It's hard) to appreciate it because we lost," he said. "Not to be a jerk, but it's all for naught when you lose."

When MSU did get some of the momentum back after recovering an onside kick, Cook threw and ugly interception in the red zone that seemed to give Baylor the game again.

Cook struggled during portions of the game, finishing 24-42 with 314 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, but remained calm on the final drive.

"Obviously I would have liked to have played a little better," Cook said. "But it's not about how you start, it's about how you finish. It sounds cliche, but it really is."

MSU has now had to come back in their last four bowl wins against Georgia, TCU, Stanford and Baylor. Last season Cook had to bounce back after throwing a pick six in the Rose Bowl to lead the comeback against Stanford.

"I never lost belief," he said. "I never doubted myself or our team."

The future

The moment many people latched onto after the game was an image of defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi and Dantonio sharing a tearful embrace after the win. Narduzzi is leaving following this game to become head coach at Pittsburgh.

"You want the best for your people," Dantonio said. "To win the last game like that for coach Narduzzi was something that will be a memory for life."

Narduzzi said he was able to keep is emotions in check, until Dantonio asked him to have a special moment when he was recognized during the final practice.

"During the last practice all of the seniors go down and shake everyone's hands," he said. "That was great until coach said go down there and say goodbye to the seniors, but it was a great way to say goodbye to my players."

As with a lot of programs, the juniors are expected to fill the void when the seniors leave, after the game both the seniors and the juniors said that is their expectation for next season is for that tradition to continue.

"It's up to the juniors on this team to take the program to the next step," junior linebacker Darien Harris said. "We've already been history-makers here like coach said and set some records, now it's time for us to take this program to the next level."

For some, the future does not consist of football, or that future is clouded by uncertainty. Senior defensive end Marcus Rush said all the emotions that come with a comeback win in the Cotton Bowl and football potentially being over hasn't hit him yet.

"It's probably not going to hit until I get back home," he said. "I'm just trying to enjoy it right now."

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