Bowling Green falls to Pitt 30-27 in Pizza Bowl
Bowling Green will have to settle for one big win at Ford Field
James Conner rushed for 229 yards – breaking a Pittsburgh bowl
record held by Tony Dorsett – and Chris Blewitt kicked a
tiebreaking field goal with 1:17 remaining, lifting the Panthers to
a 30-27 win over Bowling Green on Thursday night in the Little
Caesars Pizza Bowl.
Bowling Green (10-4) had upset Northern Illinois in Detroit
earlier this month in the Mid-American Conference title game, but
Pitt turned out to be too powerful an adversary in the Falcons’
return to the Motor City.
”They were without question the most physical team we faced all
season,” said Adam Scheier, Bowling Green’s interim coach. ”The
offensive line was tough, the running back was obviously a bear to
tackle and the whole defensive line was disruptive.”
Scheier took over after Wake Forest hired coach Dave Clawson
away from the Falcons. Scheier coached the bowl, but now Dino
Babers takes over.
”Focus was never a problem,” Scheier said. ”These seniors
were so ready that we could have just rolled the ball out there and
they would have run the practices themselves.”
But Conner ran all over Bowling Green’s defense, and fellow
freshman Tyler Boyd gave Pitt (7-6) a boost with eight catches for
173 yards. Boyd also scored on a punt return in the first half.
Bowling Green tied it at 17 when BooBoo Gates took the
second-half kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown.
Dorsett rushed for 202 yards in Pitt’s win over Georgia in the
Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, 1977. The school’s receiving record for a
bowl came the next season. In a Gator Bowl win over Clemson, Gordon
Jones had 163 yards receiving.
Both marks fell Thursday.
Conner rushed for 165 yards in the second half.
”We had seen him on film, but he was mostly a short-yardage
guy, so we weren’t expecting that from him,” said Gates, a Bowling
Green defensive back. ”He was breaking tackles all over the place.
I had one shot at him, and he slipped right out and I was like,
Conner helped Pitt overcome the loss of quarterback Tom Savage,
who didn’t play after halftime because of a rib injury. Conner and
the Panthers drove 51 yards in seven plays late in the fourth
quarter to set up a 39-yard kick by Blewitt, who had missed from
the same distance earlier.
Aaron Donald, Pitt’s All-American on the defensive line, helped
thwart any last-ditch comeback with a sack deep in Bowling Green
Chad Voytik relieved Savage and put Pitt ahead 27-20 with a
5-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, but the Falcons tied it
on Matt Johnson’s 15-yard strike to Ryan Burbrink with 4:42 to
Boyd’s 54-yard punt return gave the Panthers a 17-3 lead in the
second quarter. Bowling Green rallied, tying it at 17 on the return
by Gates to start the third.
Bowling Green appeared to catch a break on the kick return by
Gates. A tussle behind the play drew a flag as Gates approached the
goal line, but officials ruled that the touchdown stood, with
offsetting penalties after the play.
The Little Caesars Pizza Bowl faces an uncertain future now that
the Detroit Lions have decided to get in the bowl business and will
host a game next season. If this game vanishes from the bowl
lineup, this was an entertaining finale.
Conner put Pitt ahead 7-3 with a 15-yard scoring run near the
end of the first quarter. Boyd nearly lost his balance trying to
stay inbounds at the end of his punt return, but he was able to
reach the end zone.
”I knew I had to stay inbounds, because I’m not in the
goal-line package,” Boyd said. ”So if I stepped out, I wouldn’t
get a chance to score.”
The Falcons rallied thanks in part to an ill-timed loss of
discipline by Donald, who picked up an unsportsmanlike conduct
penalty with Bowling Green about to punt from its own territory.
The Falcons ended up scoring on the drive when Alex Bayer took
Johnson’s short pass on fourth-and-1 and turned it into a 29-yard
touchdown to make it 17-10.