Gateway grad Nicholson part of Michigan State's big Cotton Bowl comeback
Montae Nicholson still believed.
He tried to help as many of his Michigan State teammates believe as well.
Trailing 41-21 to Baylor in the fourth quarter of the Cotton Bowl on New Year's Day, Nicholson and the rest of the Spartans faced an uphill climb.
But Michigan State got one score, then another. The Spartans converted the deciding touchdown with 17 seconds left to unleash a celebration on the sideline.
Nicholson, a true freshman defensive back and special teams player, was in the middle of it all.
He celebrated some big moments while at Gateway, and the 42-41 win over the No. 6 Bears, he said, was the biggest of his young collegiate career.
“It was an amazing feeling,” Nicholson said. “We were talking on the sideline about how we weren't out of it even though it didn't look good. But everyone stepped up and got the job done. I was so happy.”
Nicholson, who saw an increased role as the season went on, played on defense as a reserve against Baylor and also played on special teams.�
For the sixth year, the Cotton Bowl Classic was at AT&T Stadium, the home field of the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington, Texas.
“The Cotton Bowl is a great traditional game,” Nicholson said. “It was truly a blessing to be able to play in the game. Not many get to say they played in a major bowl game. To play in it and win it was really humbling. I felt very blessed. I am pleased with the things our program is doing.”
The win for Michigan State was part of a pretty decent day for the Big Ten in bowl games.
Earlier in the day, Wisconsin defeated Auburn, 34-31, in overtime in the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla.
In the final one of the five bowl games on New Year's Day, Ohio State upset No. 1 Alabama, 42-35, in the Sugar Bowl to advance to the College Football Playoff National Championship Game against Oregon.
Michigan State finished its season 11-2 overall, and its only two losses this season came to Ohio State and Oregon.
Nicholson said he's pumped for the offseason, including the spring practices, as he hopes for an even bigger role on defense in 2015.
“It was an extremely important win for the team,” Nicholson said.
“We have a lot of returning guys who want to step up. The win was also good for the recruits to see they are coming into a great program.”
The win over Baylor was Michigan State's fourth consecutive bowl victory.
Last year, the Spartans also staged a comeback, as they trailed Stanford 10-0 and 17-7 in the Rose Bowl before rallying to win, 24-20.
Nicholson said he was honored that Pat Narduzzi, the new Pitt head coach, elected to coach the Spartans defense one more time in the Cotton Bowl.
“It really meant a lot to us,” Nicholson said. “He spoke to us and talked about us being a family. I totally understand him wanting to take the Pitt job. It's a great opportunity for him. Pitt is getting a great coach who brings a lot of energy to everything he does.”
Michael Love is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-388-5825 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.