Pittsburgh kicker Chris Blewitt's field goal with 1:17 remaining gave the University of Pittsburgh a 30-27 win over the Bowling Green State University football team Thursday night (Dec. 26), in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl at Ford Field in Detroit, Mich.
The win gives the Panthers a final record of 7-6, while the Falcons end the 2013 season with a record of 10-4.
Pitt freshman James Conner ran for 229 yards and a touchdown, while the Panthers' Tyler Boyd had 173 receiving yards and returned a punt 54 yards for a score.
The Panthers had 487 yards of total offense to the Falcons' 289. BGSU quarterback Matt Johnson threw for 272 yards and a pair of scores, completing 20 of 32 passes on the night. For Pitt, Tom Savage was 8-of-13 for 124 yards before leaving the game due to injury late in the first half. Chad Voytik was 5-of-9 for 108 yards in relief.
Pitt had a total of seven quarterback sacks in the game.
The Pitt offense went three and out on each of the first two drives. The BGSU defense forced Pitt into three plays of negative yardage and one incomplete pass in those first two drives. On third down of each drive, Pitt picked up positive yardage, but not enough for the first down in either case.
Meanwhile, the Falcons were forced to punt on their opening drive. Matt Johnson's 16-yard pass to Heath Jackson on third down was not enough to overcome a sack earlier in the possession, which ended with a 60-yard punt by Brian Schmiedebusch. But, on BG's second drive, Johnson found Shaun Joplin for gains of 18 and 17 yards, respectively, on back-to-back plays. Joplin led the BG receivers with six catches and 86 yards vs. the Panthers. The Falcons got into the red zone before the drive stalled, and Tyler Tate kicked a 28-yard field goal fo give the Brown and Orange the early lead.
Back came the Panthers, however, as Lafayette Pitts returned the ensuing kickoff to midfield, and Savage found Boyd for back-to-back completions to get the ball to the 37. From there, Conner took over. The freshman tailback carried the ball on four-straight carries, gaining 15 yards and finding the end zone on the fourth. With just 58 seconds left in the first quarter, Blewitt's point-after try was successful and gave the Panthers a 7-3 lead.
The Falcons were forced to punt on the next drive, as three plays gained approximately nine yards and two-plus feet. Schmiedebusch and Ronnie Moore combined to pin the Panthers at their own 8-yard line. After a 56-yard punt by the former, the latter tackled punt returner Boyd for a loss of two yards.
But, on the very next play, Savage hit Boyd with a mid-range pass, and a missed tackle resulted in a 46-yard gain into BG territory. Several plays later, the Panthers picked up a first down on a fourth-down quarterback sneak by Savage, and Conner gained 14 yards to the BG 21-yard line on the next play. Then, Savage, under duress, lofted a pass to J.P. Holtz at the 7-yard line.
Facing a first-and-goal situation, however, the BG defense stiffened, allowing a combined zero yards on the next three plays. Conner gained one, and Savage's second-down pass to Boyd was incomplete, as the Pitt freshman nearly made a diving catch but was out of bounds. Ted Ouellet sacked Savage as he tried to scramble on third down, and Blewitt came on to kick a 25-yard field goal. The Panthers' drive netted 85 yards, but only three points, and Pitt took a 10-3 lead with 8:29 left before halftime.
The Panthers' defense rose to the occasion on the next drive, sacking Johnson twice in a three-play span, and Boyd returned a Schmiedebusch punt 54 yards for a touchdown and, after the PAT, a 17-3 lead.
The Falcons answered on the ensuing drive. The drive started slowly, but was aided by a penalty on Pitt. BGSU's first three plays resulted in negative-three yards. But, after a third-down sack by the Panthers, All-American defensive tackle Aaron Donald was whistled for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, giving the Falcons a first down at the BG 45. And, the BG offense took advantage of the second chance.
Several plays later, Johnson scrambled right and whipped a pass to Ryan Burbrink at the right sideline. The third-and-9 play gained 16 yards to the Pitt 38-yard line. Three plays later, though, BG faced a fourth-and-one situation, but Johnson found Alex Bayer for a 29-yard catch-and-run play that saw the senior tight end find the end zone. Tate added the PAT after the 10-play, 67-yard drive.
Savage hooked up with Boyd on a 29-yard gain for the Panthers, giving Pitt the ball at the BG 40-yard line in the final minute of play. Then, however, the Panther QB threw three-straight incompletions, with quarterback hurries by Bryan Thomas and Paul Swan sandwiched around a pass broken up by Ryland Ward. Ward hit would-be receiver Manesseh Garner on a pass down the middle that otherwise would have picked up a first down. On fourth down, Pitt punter Matt Yoklic pinned the Falcons at the one-yard line, and two running plays by BG used up the remaining seconds of the opening half.
BGSU drew even at the start of the second half, as BooBoo Gates returned the opening kickoff 94 yards for a score. Tate's PAT tied the game with only 11 seconds elapsed.
That Gates return tied the school record for longest kickoff return in history, matching Leon Weathersby's 94-yard return in a 1997 game at Perry Stadium.
With Savage sidelined due to an injury, Voytik took over at quarterback for the Panthers at the start of the second half. Voytik handed off on the first two plays, with Conner gaining 11 yards on the first and 45 on the next. That gave Pitt the ball at the BG 21, but the next three plays failed to gain a single yard, and Blewitt's 39-yard field-goal try was no good.
The Falcons took the lead on the next drive, as Tate hit a 46-yard field goal. The key play on that drive was a 22-yard pass from Johnson to Joplin on a third-down play, taking the ball into Panther territory. Tate's kick gave the Falcons a 20-17 advantage with 9:52 left in the third quarter.
The Panthers answered with a 10-play, 65-yard drive. Again, the Falcons' defense bent but did not break, forcing the Pitt drive to stall at the BG 10-yard line, and Blewitt's 28-yard field-goal attempt was good, tying the game at 20-20 with 5:59 to go in the third period. Conner gained 45 yards on his first four rushing attempts of that drive, but on his fifth, he was stopped for a one-yard loss by Swan. That came on a second-down play, and on third down, Voytik's pass into the end zone was out of the reach of Holtz.
Despite a pair of 13-yard gains on the next drive – a run by Johnson and a pass to Burbrink – the Falcons were forced to punt the ball back to the Panthers. Conner gained 21 yards on the first play of the ensuing drive, and followed that up with a 10-yard run over midfield, but the Falcons held, and Yoklic's punt put the Falcons at their own 9-yard line.
The Falcons' next drive stalled after a pair of first downs, but a Schmiedebusch punt sailed far over the head of would-be punt-returner Boyd, and the Falcons downed the kick at the 2-yard line for a 67-yard boot.
But, Voytik and the Panthers responded with a 98-yard drive, with the big play a 62-yard throw to Boyd. That pass gave Pitt a first down at the BG 11, and the Pitt QB took the ball the last five yards to give his team the lead with 9:31 to go. Blewitt's PAT made it a 27-20 game.
Johnson and the Falcons responded, though, tying the game with a nine-play, 75-yard drive. On a double reverse, Jackson found Moore for seven yards, and Travis Green picked up three yards for a first down at the 35-yard line. Two plays later, Johnson hit Joplin for a 20-yard gain, and two plays later, the redshirt sophomore's 15-yard strike to Jackson gave the Falcons a first down at the Pitt 41.
After a pass to Moore picked up five yards, Johnson again found Jackson. This time, the catch-and-run play was good for 21 yards, down to the Panthers' 15-yard line. On the next play, Johnson rolled right and zipped a pass to Burbrink near the front of the end zone. Tate's PAT tied the score with 4:42 on the clock.
The next drive, however, saw the Panthers kick what proved to be the winning field goal. On the second play of that drive, Voytik rolled out and gained 19 yards, giving Pitt a first down at midfield. Conner gained 20 yards on the following play. Voytik handed the ball to Conner on each of the next three plays, gaining a total of nine yards. On that third-down play, Conner was stopped for no gain, but on fourth down, Blewitt's 39-yard kick was good.
The Falcons' final drive saw Johnson complete a first-down pass to Bayer, gaining 16 yards to the BG 31-yard line. But, from there, an incomplete pass, a holding penalty and a pair of sacks moved the ball backward, and BG faced a fourth-and-40 from the one-yard line. Johnson's fourth-down pass was complete to Jackson, and a series of laterals kept the ball alive for a while, but the last of those lateral attempts rolled out of bounds, ending the drive and giving the ball back to Pitt. A Voytik kneel-down ran out the clock.
The loss snapped a five-game winning streak for the Brown and Orange, who posted a double-digit win total for the first time in a decade.
Bowling Green Notes
*BooBoo Gates' 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown was tied for longest in school history with Leon Weathersby. It was the second longest kickoff return in Little Caesars Pizza Bowl history.
*Brian Schmiedebusch's punting average of 54.6 yards was a bowl game record for the Falcons.
*Schmiedebusch's 67-yard punt was the Falcons' longest in a bowl game.
*Tyler Tate's 46-yard field goal was the Falcons' longest in a bowl game, surpassing Shaun Suisham's 37-yard field goal in the 2004 GMAC Bowl.
*The attendance of 26,259 was the eighth-biggest crowd in bowl game history.
*Travis Greene ended the season as the school's single-season rushing leader with 1,594 rushing yards. His 279 rushing attempts were second all-time in school history, while his 1,749 all-purpose yards were second to Freddie Barnes in 2009.
*Matt Johnson finished the season with 3,647 yards passing, fourth all-time in school history for a single season. His 25 passing TDs were tied for sixth-most all-time.
*Tyler Tate finished with 113 points on the season, sixth most in school history. He finished the season 59-of-61 on PAT attempts, finishing second in school history in both makes and attempts. Tate's 18 field goals were second most in school history behind Brian Leaver's 21 in 1994.
*Travis Greene finishes the season with a 5.7 yards per carry average, tied for 11th-best in school history for a single season.
*Matt Johnson finishes the season with 231 pass completions, ninth-most in school history.
*Johnson's completion percentage of .642 is tied for sixth-best in a single season.
*The sophomore signal-caller also averaged 14.6 yards per completion in 2013, fifth-best in school history.
*Ronnie Moore's 19.5 yards per catch is the fifth-best mark in school history for a single season.
*Johnson's 3,705 total yards are fourth-best in school history for a single season.
*BooBoo Gates' kick return average of 30.6 is the best mark in school history for a single season.
*Brian Schmiedebusch finishes his career with 178 punts, fifth-most in school history.
*Ted Ouellet finishes his career with 10.5 sacks, 11th-most in school history.