Houston stuns Pitt with 29-point fourth quarter


For the better part of 54 minutes of game time, this was my thought.  And my original lede:

That’s three hours of my life I’ll never get back.  Wait, did I just type that out loud?

Then the last six minutes of the game happened… and it totally redeemed itself.

In a game that at one point some could’ve use as the argument for there being too many bowl games, but will instead be viewed as the little brother of yesterday’s Michigan State-Baylor classic, Houston (7-6) roared back from a significant fourth-quarter deficit to rip a 35-34 win away from Pittsburgh in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl.

The thing for Pitt, playing under an interim head coach, is that Houston, also with an interim coach, trailed 31-6 with just under 14 minutes remaining in the game.  And then, eight minutes later, all hell broke loose.

The Cougars, who looked as dead as the Spartans did in yesterday’s Cotton Bowl, mounted a furious comeback after going down 34-13 with just over six minutes remaining in the fourth on a Pitt field goal.  An eight-yard Greg Ward touchdown pass with 3:41 remaining cut the lead to 34-20.  After a successful onsides kick, another Ward touchdown pass, this one from 29 yards out, cut the lead to 34-27.

Unbelievably, a second consecutive onsides kick was successful, with another Ward touchdown pass subsequently pulling the Cougars to within one at 34-33 with :59 remaining.  Instead of going for the tie, UH went for two… and converted, with Ward hitting Deontay Greenberry to give themselves a 35-34 lead.

Pitt’s final, last-gasp drive stalled at the 50-yard line, handing UH the improbable victory.

After starting off with just 37 first-half passing yards, Ward finished the game 272 yards and the three touchdowns.  He had 92 yards rushing as well, and was named as the Player of the Game.

For the game, the Cougars had 487 yards of offense; incredibly, 294 of those yards came in that wild fourth quarter.

Quarterback Chad Voytik passed for 214 yards and a touchdown in a losing effort, and added 40 yards rushing for good measure.  James Conner, the nation’s fifth-leading rusher, ended the game with 90 yards on the ground after being bottled up the first half.

With Pitt’s loss, the ACC dropped to 4-7 this postseason.  That will be their final record as that conference’s bowl season is complete.  It’s also the second-worst Power Five mark, ahead of only the Big 12’s 1-4.

The AAC, meanwhile, evened out its mark at 2-2.  East Carolina will face Florida in the Birmingham Bowl Saturday, the conference’s lone remaining opportunity to improve on that mark.

Florida to host Florida Atlantic in 2021

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Florida will host Florida Atlantic in 2021, FAU announced Tuesday. The game will take place on Sept. 4 and serve as the season-opener for both schools.

The schools have met three times previously, all of them in Gainesville. Florida won 59-20 on Nov. 17, 2007, 41-3 on Sept. 3, 2011, and 20-14 on Nov. 21, 2015.

The game will round out both schools’ non-conference schedules.

Florida will visit USF on Sept. 11, host Florida State on Nov. 27 and has a TBD home game against Samford, most likely on Nov. 20.

Today’s news means Florida has a future game on the schedule with every FBS program in the Sunshine State except UCF and Florida International. Florida beat Miami in Orlando to open this season and will play a home-and-home with the ‘Canes in 2024-25.

Florida Atlantic will follow its Gainesville trip with an excursion to Colorado Springs to play Air Force. After that, the Owls will host Fordham and Georgia Southern to round out September.


With Husky mascot retiring in 2021, Northern Illinois to introduce successor on Tuesday

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Northern Illinois’ husky mascot, Mission, is retiring in 2021, and on Tuesday the school will introduce his successor.

Mission II, born on July 6 and weighing a tender 14.5 ounces, will replace Mission two years from now, and the puppy will begin his official duties as NIU’s next official mascot on Tuesday.

“We have long been searching for the heir apparent to Mission, and there is no question that we have found the right Huskie,” NIU Alumni Association Executive Director Reggie Bustinza said. “Mission has set very high expectations, but there is no doubt in my mind that Mission II cannot only meet those demands, but surpass them.

“We are happy that Mission will have plenty of years to enjoy his retirement.”

Mission will turn 10 years old in 2021, and by that time Mission II will be fully versed in all the expectations placed upon the Official Northern Illinois Husky.

Mission II, a Siberian husky born in southern Wisconsin, will accompany Mission “to all eligible events for experiential learning and proofing,” which begins at a tasting for an NIU-branded beer on Tuesday evening in DeKalb.

The school has not revealed when Mission II will make his debut at a Husky football game, and in the meantime he’ll continue training with Lisa Boland while also attending daily puppy classes.

“I’m most looking forward to seeing Mission and Mission II do the job together during the training period,” Boland said. “It will be wonderful to watch ‘Mini-Mish’ learn from Mission, and see them work as a team. Mission has set a very high bar in mascotting, and Mission II will be working very hard to follow in his footsteps. I am so proud of Mission and the work that he’s done as the official NIU mascot.

“I am thrilled to have the privilege of guiding his successor to best represent Huskie Nation.”

Troy loses RB B.J. Smith, SBC Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, to season-ending injury

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This one will certainly leave a lasting mark.

Over the summer, Troy’s B.J. Smith was named as the Sun Belt Conference’s Preseason Offensive Player of the Year.  Two months later, the football program confirmed, the running back will be sidelined for the remainder of the 2019 season because of an injury sustained in the Week 3 loss to Southern Miss.

While the specific nature of the injury wasn’t divulged by the school, it’s believed Smith injured his knee midway through the second quarter of last Saturday’s game.

Last season, Smith led the Trojans with 1,186 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns.  This season, the fourth-year senior had rushed for 106 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries in two games.

Because of the timing of the injury, Smith can take a redshirt for the 2019 season and return to the Trojans next season.

Texas LB Caleb Johnson enters transfer portal

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Sitting at the quarter-pole of the 2019 regular season, and Texas is the latest FBS program to feel the pain of the portal.

Joe Cook of InsideTexas.com was the first to report that Caleb Johnson has placed his name into the NCAA transfer database.  247Sports.com subsequently confirmed the initial report, writing that the junior linebacker “feels he has not fit in well since he arrived at Texas.”

247Sports provided further details as to the events leading up to Johnson’s decision.

According to sources with knowledge of the situation, Johnson met with the staff Monday morning to inform them of his intentions to enter the transfer portal. While the staff requested he think more about his decision, Johnson decided to enter his name into he NCAA Transfer Portal, and is listed in the portal as of Tuesday morning.

Johnson joined the Longhorns from the junior college level, enrolling early and taking part in spring practice this past offseason.  He was a three-star 2019 signee who was rated as the No. 3 JUCO outside linebacker in this past year’s class.

Through three games, Johnson hadn’t yet taken the field for the Big 12 program.