Judging from the attendance at the Armed Forces Bowl, many people gave up on the pairing between Houston and Pittsburgh. When the Panthers went up 31-6 early in the fourth quarter and led 34-13 with 6:14 to play, many of those watching at home probably found something else to do. They missed out on one of the more ridiculous comebacks of the bowl season, as the Cougars roared all the way back, recovering two onside kicks and completing a two-point conversion to seal a 35-34 win in Fort Worth.
With both teams playing under interim coaches, there was the potential for one of three things: a sleepy bowl game, a blowout one way or the other, or, well, this. Former Pitt head coach Paul Chryst is now at Wisconsin, new Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi was watching in person (and spent some time in the ESPN booth), and Tom Herman, Houston’s new coach and Ohio State’s offensive coordinator, just finished beating Alabama en route to a national title appearance.
The Cougars scored 29 points in the fourth quarter, with receiver Deontay Greenberry hauling in two touchdowns, including the one that inevitably set up the game-winning two-point try. He also caught the two-point conversion. Quarterback Greg Ward Jr. threw three total touchdowns on the day, all in the fourth quarter, and finished with 274 yards.
The Cougars end the season 8-5 and endured one of the more up-and-down years of any team in the American Athletic Conference. The year began with high hopes for a big season under Tony Levine after an 8-5 campaign the year before, but Houston started 2-3 including an opening week loss to UTSA. The Cougars rallied to win five of their last seven games, but Levine was fired on Dec. 8.
“Although we are excited to play in our second straight bowl game, the expectations of our program have changed over the last five years,” Houston athletic director Mack Rhoades said in a statement at the time.
The Houston search ended with Herman, who won the Broyles Award this year for the top assistant coach in college football. Pitt’s search also ended in a former Broyles Award winner, as Narduzzi earned the honor last season. But the former Michigan State defensive coordinator could only watch in, most likely, horror as the Panthers allowed three touchdowns in the final 3:55 to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.