Oklahoma State completes biggest comeback in Fiesta Bowl history in win over Notre Dame

José M. Romero
Arizona Republic

Ninth-ranked Oklahoma State stormed back from a 21-point deficit in the second quarter to stun No. 5 Notre Dame 37-35 in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl Saturday at State Farm Stadium, and pull off what Cowboys head coach Mike Gundy called "clearly the biggest win in the history of the school."

Oklahoma State (12-2) scored 30 unanswered points between the second and fourth quarters, then held on for the Cowboys' third Fiesta Bowl win in three appearances in the game. Wide receiver Tay Martin tied a bowl record with three touchdown catches, quarterback Spencer Sanders was 34 of 51 in passing for 371 yards with four touchdown passes, and the Cowboys defense held Notre Dame to only a  late touchdown in the second half.

Sanders threw for 236 yards in the second half and had 17 carries for 136 yards to lead Oklahoma State in rushing. 

"You're in a New Year's Day Bowl. You're two top 10 teams, number five team in the country," Gundy said.. You're playing Notre Dame ... down 21 points in the Fiesta Bowl. The biggest win in the history of the school."

Tanner Brown made up for an earlier miss with three field goals in the second half, the first from 38 yards which gave Oklahoma State the lead for good at 31-28 with six seconds left in the third quarter.

But the Cowboys had to recover an onside kick to ensure the win, which they did with 1:03 to play, and Oklahoma State completed the largest comeback for a win in Fiesta Bowl history. Notre Dame's collapse gave it the program's fifth straight Fiesta Bowl loss.

Notre Dame was down nine points with just over a minute to play, before Jack Coan's 25-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Austin Jr. with 1:05 left made it 37-35. After the onside kick, Sanders took a knee twice to run out the clock. 

The game was the debut for new Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman, hired last month after Brian Kelly departed for LSU.

"As I told them 28 days ago, this is about right now, this was about finishing this season off the right way. Wouldn't happen and it's OK," Freeman said. "All we can do now is start focusing on what we'll do as we move forward to make sure that we're successful the next time we are on the field."

The Cowboys had a chance to take a 10-point lead early in the fourth quarter, and Brennan Presley was headed into the end zone with an end-around touchdown run when he was stripped of the ball at the goal line by linebacker Drew White. Notre Dame got the ball but could not capitalize on the turnover. 

Presley had 10 catches for 137 yards. 

Notre Dame drove into Cowboys territory midway through the fourth, but Coan was intercepted by Oklahoma State's Malcolm Rodriguez with 6:35 to play. Rodriguez was named the Fiesta Bowl's Defensive Player of the Game, leading his team with eight solo tackles.

Oklahoma State seemed to have the game in hand after a 29-yard completion to Martin, but Sanders fumbled at the 13-yard line and Notre Dame had another chance. 

The Cowboys forced a turnover on downs, and Brown kicked another field goal with 2:16 to play to seal the win. 

Notre Dame finished the season 11-2, with Coan going 38 of 68 for a Fiesta Bowl record 509 yards and five touchdowns in his second chance to win a New Year's Day game. He led Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl two seasons ago but the Badgers lost by a point to Oregon.

Four of Coan's touchdown passes and 342 of his passing yards came in the first half, with two touchdown passes to tight end Michael Mayer and one each to running back Chris Tyree and wide receiver Lorenzo Styles Jr. 

Styles led Notre Dame in receiving with 10 catches for 136 yards. 

"It is definitely very tough when you have a lead like that at half," Coan said. "You want to build upon that and win. I mean, any loss hurts, no matter what kind of game it is. Definitely hurts and use it as motivation on whatever I'm in next."

Tyree, one of Notre Dame's fill-ins at running back with leading rusher Kyren Williams having opted out of the Fiesta Bowl to better be ready for the NFL Draft, had five catches for 111 yards in the first half, including a 53-yard touchdown from Coan on which he was wide open over the middle and raced up the field with the ball untouched into the end zone. 

"Once we kind of settled in, we had several guys involved in play calling and they were helping each other," Gundy said.

The need for a cooperative effort in calling the defense was needed with the departure of defensive coordinator Jim Knowles to Ohio State. 

Down 28-14 at the half after a late first half score to cut Notre Dame's lead, Oklahoma State got the ball to start the second half and drove 87 yards in 12 plays, with Sanders hitting Martin again for a short touchdown to make it 28-21. 

Sanders said he told his teammates to trust him and he would trust them in turn.

"It was a great drive. Offensive line protected well and the receivers caught the ball," Sanders said.

Martin had dropped back-to-back passes in the first half that wrecked a drive, but atoned for that with his three scoring grabs after the drops. 

"We told him flat out that we were going to come back to him," Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Kasey Dunn said. "He's our guy. And he responded. Those were uncharacteristic drops."

The Cowboys forced punts on Notre Dame's first two possessions of the second half, and Sanders engineered another third-quarter touchdown drive, with Martin on the receiving end of his third TD of the day that tied the score at 28.

Get in touch with Jose Romero at Jose.Romero@gannett.com. Find him on Twitter at @RomeroJoseM.