ATLANTA — If it was the last time they play together, Jayden Reed and Payton Thorne went out on a high note.
But the door is not closed to one more go-round for the former middle school and high school teammates with Michigan State football.
Reed caught a pair of touchdowns from Thorne to earn Peach Bowl offensive most valuable player honors, finishing with six grabs for 80 yards in the 10th-ranked Spartans’ 31-21 comeback win over No. 12 Pitt on Thursday.
Earlier in the week, Reed said he would answer questions about whether he planned to return for his senior season in 2022 or enter the NFL draft after the game. But when it ended, the 6-foot, 185-pound redshirt junior said he remained uncertain of what he made decide.
“I still don't have an answer at this moment,” said Reed, a former Western Michigan transfer whose 1,026 receiving yards with 10 touchdowns among his 59 catches made him the Spartans’ first 1,000-yard receiver since Aaron Burbridge in 2015.
If he does opt join running back Kenneth Walker III in entering the NFL draft as an underclassman, Reed made his final MSU catch from Thorne a memorable one.
Thorne came out of a timeout with 3:05 to play and found Jalen Nailor for 14 yards on third-and-10. The Spartans got to the line quickly, and the sophomore quarterback took a shotgun snap as Reed — his high school teammate at both Metea Valley and Naperville Central — took off on a streak route in one-on-one coverage down the right sideline.
The pass floated high in the air, and Reed elevated over Pitt defensive back M.J. Devonshire and made the catch through enough contact to draw a pass interference penalty that was declined.
Jayden Reed climbed the ladder AND rocked the baby 👶 pic.twitter.com/s2vETumzPL
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) December 31, 2021
“I love 50-50 balls, because I believe they're 100% balls coming towards my way,” Reed said confidently. “And Payton Thorne threw a great ball. He gave me opportunity to put it somewhere where I could make a play.”
That score, along with a 2-point conversion pass from Thorne to Nailor, gave the Spartans a 24-21 lead with 2:51 to play.
“He was excellent tonight all night,” Thorne said fo Reed. “And he was keeping me up the whole game. And he was open all night. And he did a great job.”
It also was a record-breaking day for 6-2, 210-pound Thorne, who set a career high with 354 yards on 29-for-50 passing. His 28-yard score to Reed on the Spartans’ first drive of the game and 15-yard strike to tight end Connor Heyward with 8:06 to play gave Thorne the Spartans’ single-season record for the most touchdown passes with 27, breaking Kirk Cousins’ previous record of 25 which was set in 2011.
“Going into the fourth quarter, it was just play one play at a time, try to put a good drive together,” Thorne said. “And our guys made great plays, great catches all around. And the offensive line played well, picking up all the blitzes.”
Reed said a number of factors will go into his decision on whether to turn pro or return to MSU.
“What I do, what I always do when I make decisions, I make a pros and cons list — everything that is going to come down to, you know what I'm saying? And I really go with my gut for the most part,” said Reed, who left WMU for MSU after a freshman All-American season in 2018. “I look at the facts, what's really out there for me, and I just go with the flow. To be honest, I haven't missed yet. So trusting God and everything like that, I know I'll make the right decision.”
And if Thorne has his say?
“I'm hoping I can throw (Reed) a few more next year,” he said.
Heyward went out in style as well, about 25 minutes from his hometown of Duluth, Georgia, and against the alma mater of his parents Charlotte and the late Craig “Ironhead” Heyward, who was a star running back at Pitt.
A converted running back, Heyward caught five passes for 37 yards in front of about 50-60 friends and family. He elevated high above two defenders and snared a throw from Thorne for his touchdown in the final period, and he also had his first carry of the year — a 7-yard run on a fake punt in the third quarter.
“This game just meant a lot to me, and I just wanted to come out victorious…,” Heyward said. “It's a blessing to play the game of football and to finish it off this way against all the connections I have with Pitt. It just all came full circle.”
MSU played without starting offensive lineman Kevin Jarvis for the first time this season, with sophomore Spencer Brown making his first career start at right tackle.
Jarvis started all 12 games during the regular season, the first eight at right guard and then moving to right tackle when AJ Arcuri replaced Jarrett Horst at left tackle after the win over Michigan on Oct. 30. A fifth-year senior, Jarvis was an all-Big Ten honorable mention by the coaches and media and has made 39 career starts.
An MSU spokesman did not specify why Jarvis was absent, only saying he did not travel with the team. It is unclear if it was an injury or medical situation or if Jarvis opted out to prepare for the NFL draft. He could return next season for a sixth year with the COVID waiver from 2020.
Horst was in uniform but did not play after missing MSU’s final four regular-season games with what coach Mel Tucker termed an unspecified medical situation.
The Spartans did get Nailor back, and the redshirt junior caught six passes for a team-leading 108 yards. Starting defensive tackle Simeon Barrow also returned after missing the final three games of the regular season, finishing with six tackles, including a half-sack.
Linebacker Quavaris Crouch (right knee) was not in uniform for the third time in MSU’s final four games, and tight end Tyler Hunt (undisclosed) also was out for the second straight game. Others who did not dress included cornerback Chuck Brantley (right shoulder), offensive lineman Matt Carrick (right leg) and safety Michael Dowell (opt-out, transfer portal).
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan State WR Jayden Reed weighs NFL options after historic season