Paul Chryst and the Pitt Panthers football team gave the nation a glimpse of their future Thursday night and at least for one night that future looked very bright.
Freshman Tyler Boyd, James Connor and Chad Voytik all played big roles as the Panthers ended their season on a high note with a 30-27 win over Bowling Green in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit.
Boyd broke Larry Fitzgerald’s bowl record with eight receptions for 123 yards and also returned a punt 54 yards for a touchdown. Connor broke Tony Dorsett’s Pitt bowl record by gaining 229 yards on 26 carries with a touchdown. The freshman running back also made an impact on the defensive side of the ball late in the game.
Meanwhile the redshirt freshman Voytik had to take over for an injured Ton Savage late in the first half and responded like a veteran, completing 5-of-9 passes for 108 yards and gained an additional 24 yards on the ground, including a five-yard touchdown run to give the Panthers a 27-20 fourth quarter lead.
After Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Burbrink to tie the game at 27 with just over four minutes to play, Pitt freshman kicker Chris Blewitt knocked threw a 39-yard field goal with just 1:17 remaining to give the Panthers a 30-27 lead.
After that Aaron Donald ended his Pitt career with a sack of Johnson, who was sacked on the very next play by Tyrone Ezell to all but end the game.
Judging by the way both teams competed, you wouldn’t know that this was a meaningless bowl game, but it turned out to be a very entertaining contest that neither team wanted to lose.
The Panthers fell behind 3-0 early, but Connor got them on the board with a 15-yard first quarter touchdown run to make it a 7-3 game. After a field goal by Blewitt and Boyd’s punt return, Pitt had a quick 17-3 first half lead.
But that wouldn’t last long as the Falcons pulled within 17-10 at the half on a 29-yard touchdown pass from Johnson to Alex Bayer.
Bowling Green tied the game at 17 when BooBoo Gates returned the opening kickoff of the second half 94 yards for a score. A fight broke out behind the play but even though offsetting personal fouls were issued, the touchdown still stood.
Each team exchanged field goals to close the third quarter tied at 20 before Voytik gave the Panthers a brief lead with his touchdown run. The Falcons tied it quickly before Voytik led the Panthers 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.
All the freshman were very impressive on the night for the Panthers, but none maybe as much as Connor, who rushed for 165 yards in the second half.
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 records fell Thursday night.
There’s a good chance that this may have been the final Little Caesars Pizza Bowl due to the Detroit Lions deciding to get in the bowl business and will host a game next season.
If this happens to be the final game in this series, the Panthers and Falcons definitely offered up an entertaining finale.
Photo Credit: Associated Press