Detroit, MI (SportsNetwork.com) - Chad Voytik came on in relief and helped lead Pittsburgh to a postseason victory, as Chris Blewitt's 39-yard field goal with 1:17 remaining gave the Panthers a 30-27 win over Bowling Green in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl at Ford Field.
Voytik, a redshirt freshman, ran for a key touchdown after relieving injured starting quarterback Tom Savage in the second half and played mistake-free ball as James Conner and Tyler Boyd carried Pitt (7-6) to its first bowl victory and winning season since 2010.
Conner set the Panthers' bowl rushing record with 229 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries, while Boyd returned a punt for a score and caught eight passes for a 173 yards.
"The offensive line had a big part in it," Conner said of his big game. "It was a team effort."
New Bowling Green head coach Dino Babers watched from the sideline as the MAC- champion Falcons (10-4) rallied from an early 14-point deficit before falling just short of tying a program record for wins in a season.
Matt Johnson threw for 272 yards with two touchdowns, but took two costly sacks on Bowling Green's final possession.
Boyd was nowhere to be found after Savage suffered a rib injury late in the first half. Content to run with Voytik at the helm, the Panthers used Conner to do most of the work on offense.
"I was surprised at how many tackles he was breaking," Bowling Green defensive back BooBoo Gates said of Conner. "They were one of the most physical teams we've played all year."
Despite Conner's effective running, the Falcons battled back as Pitt failed to build on its early lead, and it was all even at 20-20 heading to the fourth before Boyd finally got loose on a stop-and-go.
Voytik hit Boyd in stride for a huge 62-yard gain, and the frosh called his own number with a 5-yard bootleg into the end zone to put Pitt in front.
Bowling Green did not go quietly, however, as Johnson and Ryan Burbrink hooked up for a tying 15-yard touchdown with 4:42 remaining.
Voytik rolled out for a 19-yard gain to midfield on the ensuing drive, and four straight runs by Conner totaled 29 yards to set up Blewitt's game-winner.
The Falcons went backward on their last possession. Aaron Donald, Pitt's decorated defensive tackle, swallowed up Johnson for an 11-yard loss after an offensive holding penalty, Tyrone Ezell nearly pulled the quarterback down for a safety on the next snap, and a lateral-filled final play went for naught.
Bowling Green's Tyler Tate opened the scoring on a 28-yard field goal with 4:26 to go in the opening quarter, and Conner punched one in from 15 yards out to cap a 7-play, 50-yard drive.
Boyd was the star of the second quarter, as his 46-yard reception set the stage for Blewitt's 25-yard field goal 6:31 into the period. Less than two minutes later, Boyd took back a punt 54 yards for a score after tiptoeing down the left sideline. The punt return for a TD was Pitt's first since Darrelle Revis pulled off the feat against West Virginia on Nov. 16, 2006.
The Falcons gained some momentum going into the break when Johnson found Alex Bayer for a 29-yard score on a fourth-down play. The 10-play, 67-yard march was kept alive when Donald was whistled for unsportsmanlike conduct following a sack on third down.
The game was suddenly tied when Gates opened the second half with a remarkable 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown -- the second-longest in Little Caesars Pizza Bowl history.
Tate and Blewitt exchange field goals later in the third quarter to send the game tied at 20-20 heading to the fourth.