Down by 25 in the fourth quarter, with nothing to play for except school pride and a better showing for their interim head coach, Houston staged a memorable rally in Friday’s Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl.
Deontay Greenberry’s 2-point conversion catch with 59 seconds left gave the Cougars a 35-34 victory against Pittsburgh on a soggy and chilly day before an announced crowd of 37,888 at Amon G. Carter Stadium.
The 25-point comeback is largest ever in a bowl game that did not go to overtime.
“Holy cow, I tell you what, these guys, they continue to fight,” said Houston interim coach David Gibbs, who was a place-holder coach Friday as was Pitt’s Joe Rudolph. “And it’s amazing because we’ve, obviously both teams, had some adversity, coaching changes and all that. And these guys kept plugging.”
Trailing 31-6 early in the fourth quarter, Houston began its comeback, scoring 29 points in the final quarter.
Down 34-20 with 3:41 left, Houston recovered back-to-back onside kicks that led to their final two scores. Cougars running back Kenneth Farrow, from Hurst L.D. Bell, recovered the second one.
“We had to get it, man, we had to get it,” said Farrow, who was named the Houston MVP for the game. “We knew it wasn’t over until it was over. We just kept grinding it out. We got it, man. It was just hard work.”
Farrow rushed for 103 yards on 22 carries, and scored twice, including early in the fourth quarter.
“We’ve been in a lot of games like that where we had to come back,” Farrow said. “We’ve been in three games where we lost on the last play of the game. We needed this one. We came out here and we got it.”
Farrow’s recovery of the onside kick led to a 25-yard touchdown pass from Greg Ward Jr. to Greenberry, and the Cougars wideout followed that with the 2-point catch.
“We’ve been through a lot of games where we were coming from behind and we got close, but we just couldn’t finish it,” Greenberry said. “Just like coach Gibbs said. It’s all about just never quitting.”
Gibbs, the Cougars’ defensive coordinator until Tony Levine was fired last month, said a PAT kick was never an option.
“We made a decision that day at practice that if it came down to the end of the game, we were going for two, no matter what,” Gibbs said. “There was no decision. They knew three weeks ago.”
Houston’s spread offense struggled, until the fourth quarter when the Cougars reeled off 292 yards on 26 plays, including the game-ending kneel-down.
“They’re a big, physical football team,” Gibbs said. “I don’t think they’re accustomed to playing that kind of spread offense with our speed and our skill.”
The Panthers had one last shot to win it, but four incomplete passes from midfield ended the threat. Houston defensive end Eric Eiland pressured Pitt quarterback and team MVP Chad Voytik into a poor attempt on fourth down.
“It’s been a bowl season where you’ve seen some comebacks,” Rudolph said. “And, obviously, this isn’t the side of it you want to be on. We need to make a play there in the end.
“You’ve got to respond by making a play, and we just weren’t able to do it.”
Eric Zarate, 817-390-7237