Conner leads Pitt to 30-27 win over Bowling Green
James Conner surpassed Tony Dorsett in the Pittsburgh record
book – and that’s not all.
The freshman running back also played a few snaps on the
”Coach told me they wanted to unleash me on both sides of the
ball, so I’ve been getting a lot of reps both ways,” Conner said.
”I was pretty tired by the end, but I wasn’t going to tap out.
They kept giving me the ball, so I just kept running.”
Conner rushed for 229 yards, and fellow freshman Tyler Boyd
caught eight passes for 173 yards in Pitt’s 30-27 victory over
Bowling Green on Thursday night in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.
Conner broke Dorsett’s school record for yards rushing in a bowl.
Boyd set the receiving mark for the Panthers – and also scored on a
Chris Blewitt kicked a tiebreaking field goal with 1:17
”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.
The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Conner rushed for 165 yards in the
second half, helping 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.
Then Conner was back on the field on defense, helping the
Panthers protect the lead.
Boyd gave Pitt (7-6) a boost with his versatility as well.
”We obviously have some great young talent and that’s why we
are so confident about the future of this program,” Pitt coach
Paul Chryst said. ”We think we’re in great shape going
One star the Panthers will have to replace is Aaron Donald,
their All-American on the defensive line. Donald, a senior, helped
thwart any last-ditch comeback with a sack deep in Bowling Green
territory in the final minute.
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, when Gordon Jones had 163 yards in a
Gator Bowl win over Clemson.
Both marks fell Thursday, courtesy of Conner and Boyd.
Chad Voytik relieved Savage and put Pitt ahead 27-20 with a
5-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, but the Falcons – who
upset Northern Illinois in Detroit in the Mid-American Conference
title game earlier this month – tied it on Matt Johnson’s 15-yard
strike to Ryan Burbrink with 4:42 to play.
Boyd’s 54-yard punt return gave the Panthers a 17-3 lead in the
second quarter. Bowling Green (10-4) rallied, tying it at 17 on a
94-yard kickoff return by BooBoo Gates to start the second
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, the finale was entertaining.
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.