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.