PASADENA — When Kyler Elsworth soared over the pile to deliver the final hit of Michigan State's season, the storybook ending came with a moral.
After so many years outside the spotlight, the Spartans are in nobody's shadow anymore. And for the first time in 26 years, they're Rose Bowl champions.
Connor Cook passed for a career-high 332 yards and hit Tony Lippett with a tiebreaking 25-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter, leading No. 4 Michigan State to a 24-20 victory over No. 5 Stanford on Wednesday night in the 100th Rose Bowl.
Michigan State's FBS-best defense capped a dominant season with one more old-school performance befitting the centennial celebration of the Granddaddy of Them All. The Spartans (13-1) yielded just 159 yards in the final three quarters, and they closed it out by stopping Stanford fullback Ryan Hewitt on fourth-and-1 near midfield with 1:46 to play.
Elsworth, fill-in starter for suspended senior linebacker Max Bullough, hurdled the pile and flew into Michigan State lore with a spectacular head-on tackle.
“When I saw their offensive linemen's stance, I knew the way to make a play was to go over the top,” said Elsworth, the game's defensive MVP. “I was hoping they would run a play like they did on their fourth down. It's a one-in-a-lifetime play. We proved we could play on the big stage on the national level.”
Cook also threw a TD pass to Trevon Pendleton, and Jeremy Langford rushed for 84 yards and a score as the Big Ten champion Spartans overcame their first double-digit deficit of the entire season.
Michigan State finished with 10 straight wins, holding off the Pac-12 champion Cardinal (11-3) for the school's first Rose Bowl victory since 1988.