Pittsburgh 30, Bowling Green 27: James Conner ran for a career-high 229 yards and Chris Blewitt hit the go-ahead 39-yard field goal with 1:17 remaining as the Panthers outlasted the Falcons in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl at Ford Field in Detroit.
Conner broke Tony Dorsett’s 37-year-old school record for rushing yards in a bowl game while fellow freshman Tyler Boyd added eight catches for a personal-best 173 yards and returned a punt for a score for Pittsburgh (7-6). The Panthers outgained Bowling Green 487-289 to snap a two-game bowl losing streak.
Matt Johnson threw for 272 yards and two touchdown tosses for Bowling Green (10-4), which saw its five-game winning streak snapped at the same site the Falcons upset No. 23 Northern Illinois 20 days earlier to win the MAC Championship. BooBoo Gates notched his third career kickoff return for a touchdown.
Conner broke off eight runs of at least 10 yards – the first of which was a 15-yard TD in the first quarter – as his score and Boyd’s punt return bookended 17 straight points from the Panthers. Alex Bayer’s 29-yard catch-and-run on a short pass from Johnson cut the deficit to 17-10 with 1:28 left before the break and Gates tied it up when he returned the opening kickoff of the second half 94 yards.
Bowling Green’s Tyler Tate and Blewitt exchanged field goals to close the third quarter before backup quarterback Chad Voytik completed a 98-yard drive with a 5-yard run to give the Panthers a 27-20 advantage. Johnson’s 15-yard scoring strike to Ryan Burbrink knotted it up for the third time, but Conner rushed five times for 32 yards on Pittsburgh’s final drive to surpass Dorsett's record (202 in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, 1977) and set up Blewitt for his decisive kick.
GAME NOTEBOOK: Boyd, who finished the season with 85 receptions (a school record for a freshman), broke Larry Fitzgerald’s first-year mark for receiving yards with 1,174. … Bowling Green, which entered Thursday as the 24th-ranked offense in FBS, was held below 343 total yards for the first time this season. … Pittsburgh QB Tom Savage did not return after suffering a rib injury late in the second quarter.