PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — On a confetti-covered stage atop a hallowed field, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio managed to sum up a quarter-century of frustration, a stellar season and a tenacious bowl victory in one word.
"Completion," he said.
With a 24-20 victory over Stanford on Wednesday night, the Spartans reached the goal set by Dantonio seven years ago. They're champions of the Rose Bowl, rulers of the Big Ten — and nobody's little brother anymore.
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, and No. 4 Michigan State held off the fifth-ranked Cardinal in the 100th Rose Bowl.
Cook also threw a TD pass to Trevon Pendleton, and Jeremy Langford rushed for 84 yards and a score as the Spartans overcame their first double-digit deficit of the entire season before surging ahead late and preserving the lead with stalwart defense. Michigan State finished its breakthrough season with 10 straight wins, holding off the Pac-12 champion Cardinal (11-3) for the school's first Rose Bowl victory since 1988.
"It's a special time for all Spartans, and we came here in force," Dantonio said. "I'm very happy for our football team, the resilience we showed all season long."
The Spartans have long labored behind Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan — where they're derisively called the Wolverines' little brothers — among the Midwest's top programs, but Michigan State is in charge now.
Michigan State's FBS-best defense capped its 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.
Kyler Elsworth, the fifth-year senior filling in for suspended starting 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."