ARLINGTON, Texas – Bryce Petty will have plenty of good memories from his time as Baylor's quarterback, most notably leading the No. 4 Bears to their only two Big 12 championships.
The sour ending will probably stick with him for quite a while, a heartbreaking loss that tempers Baylor's contention it should have been a playoff team.
Baylor blew a 20-point lead in the fourth quarter of the Cotton Bowl to lose on New Year's Day for the second year in a row, 42-41 to No. 7 Michigan State.
"The whole goal going into this was finishing. Last year, it's a flashback. I'm sitting on a podium with Coach and a couple of guys again talking about woulda, coulda, shoulda," said Petty, making reference to last year's Fiesta Bowl loss. "That's never a spot you want to be when you have the game like we had it. It's a tough deal."
The Cotton Bowl was the lead-in game Thursday to the two national semifinals that Baylor (11-2) hoped to be part of instead — though that doesn't matter now.
"We've played a lot of really good games over the last seven seasons. Won a lot of really good games. And this is one of the tougher non-wins that I've ever experienced," coach Art Briles said. "It's got nothing to do with the big picture. The small picture right now is letting a game get away from us today."
Petty completed 36 of 51 passes for a Cotton Bowl-record 550 yards and three touchdowns, but his final college pass was intercepted with 2 seconds left. He finished 21-4 as a starter after waiting his turn behind Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III and record-setting Nick Florence.
Michigan State went ahead when Connor Cook threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Keith Mumphery with 17 seconds left. That was set up when Marcus Rush blocked Chris Callahan's 43-yard field goal attempt.
"It's just sort of crazy," Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said. "I really probably can't put it into words. We just kept pace. We didn't panic."
When Baylor got the ball back for one last desperate try, Petty was sacked on consecutive plays before the interception, providing quite a final defensive series for coordinator Pat Narduzzi. After 11 seasons and two schools with Dantonio, Narduzzi is Pittsburgh's new head coach.
Callahan had a 46-yard field goal attempt that ricocheted off the right upright to start the fourth quarter.
Michigan State (11-2) then got Cook's 8-yard TD pass to tight end Josiah Price and recovered an onside kick.
Cook threw a 39-yard pass on the first play after the recovery, but was scrambling to avoid pressure on the next play when he threw an awkward pass right to linebacker Taylor Young, who ran 84 yards to the end zone.
Young's apparent touchdown was wiped out by an illegal block, pushing Baylor back to its 43. After Petty's fourth-down incompletion, Michigan State went 60 yards, scoring on Jeremy Langford's third touchdown run.
"You hate to 'if' it, but if you don't hit the upright, if you don't get a field goal blocked, if you don't have an offensive facemask, if you don't get a penalty on an interception return, then I think we feel a lot different right now," Briles said.
Michigan State, which won the Rose Bowl as Big Ten champions last season, has won four consecutive bowl games after trailing in each of them at halftime.
Baylor was fifth in the final College Football Playoff rankings, a spot ahead of Big 12 co-champion TCU, which the Bears beat 61-58 in October after being down 21 points in the fourth quarter.
"When you're down like that against a potent offense that's pretty much scoring at will, it doesn't really look too good," Cook said. "It's just a true statement never to give up."