DETROIT — 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.
Conner also played a handful of snaps on the defensive line, 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 (10-4) 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.
The 6-foot-2 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.
Aaron Donald, Pitt’s All-American on the defensive line, helped thwart any last-ditch comeback with a sack deep in Bowling Green territory.
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 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.
Utah State 21, No. 24 Northern Illinois 14: At San Diego, Brian Suite intercepted Jordan Lynch’s pass and recovered a fumble by the Heisman Trophy finalist to help Utah State beat Northern Illinois in the Poinsettia Bowl.
Joey DeMartino, who went to high school and junior college in San Diego, carried 23 times for 143 yards and a touchdown for Utah State (9-5).
Lynch, who was third in the Heisman Trophy voting and made The Associated Press All-America team as an all-purpose player, had a rough end to his college career. Besides the two turnovers, he was held to just 39 yards rushing, keeping him from becoming the first major college player to rush for 2,000 yards and pass for 2,000 yards in the same season.
Lynch ran for a touchdown and passed for another for NIU (12-2), which lost its second straight game.