Pitt entered the season with increased expectations after its victory over West Virginia last December, its first national ranking since 2005 and an undefeated home record against the Mid-American Conference.
Then the No. 25 Panthers delivered a dud.
Pitt built a 14-point lead, then watched it slip away in a stunning 27-17 loss to Bowling Green this afternoon before 45,063 at Heinz Field.
The Falcons rallied by using multiple offensive formations to befuddle Pitt’s defense, as receivers Freddie Barnes and Anthony Turner took turns with Tyler Sheehan at quarterback.
Turner gave Bowling Green (1-0) the go-ahead points in the third quarter, and a costly turnover led to the Falcons scoring the decisive touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
It was the first loss to a MAC opponent at home for Pitt (0-1), which owns a 25-3 record against MAC schools. Two of the losses have come in Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt’s four seasons, with the other at Ohio in 2005.
Bowling Green used a nine-play, 59-yard drive capped by Turner’s 8-yard touchdown run for a 20-17 lead with 3:53 remaining in the third quarter. Pitt defensive end Greg Romeus blocked the point-after kick.
It could have been worse, if not for an inadvertent whistle. Pitt receiver Cedric McGee was stripped of the ball by Falcons cornerback Kenny Lewis, a Penn Hills graduate, who recovered the ball and returned it 64 yards for a touchdown. The play, however, was called back when officials ruled that an inadvertent whistle ruled the play dead at the Bowling Green 35. A video review confirmed the play and the ruling was upheld by officials.
Nothing stopped the next turnover, when Bowling Green cornerback Antonio Smith beat fullback Conredge Collins’ block attempt to jar the ball loose from quarterback Bill Stull. Linebacker Angelo Magnone recovered and advanced it to the 11. Two plays later, Sheehan scored on an 11-yard run for a 27-17 lead with 11:59 remaining in the game.
Pitt scored on its opening drive of the game, marching 71 yards in eight plays sparked by third-down conversions on a 4-yard run by LeSean McCoy and a 13-yard pass from Bill Stull to tight end Nate Byham.
LaRod Stephens-Howling’s 27-yard run to the Bowling Green 11 set up McCoy’s touchdown on the next play. Conor Lee converted the point-after kick for a 7-0 lead with 11:12 remaining in the first quarter.
Fifth-year senior Austin Ransom made his first career start at weak-side linebacker in place of the injured Shane Murray (knee) and added his first career interception at the Falcons’ 37 at the 9:45 mark.
Pitt increased its lead to 14-0 at 11:02 of the second quarter on an 11-play, 41-yard drive highlighted by McCoy’s 4-yard run on fourth-and-3 at the 34 and capped by Stull’s scoring pass to Derek Kinder.
Bowling Green answered with an eight-play, 73-yard scoring drive that included a 36-yard run by Chris Bullock and was capped by Freddie Barnes’ 5-yard play-action pass to fullback Jimmy Scheider to cut it to 14-7.
McCoy then fumbled at the Bowling Green 48, and the Falcons went 52 yards in seven plays, with Sheehan finding Scheidler for a 3-yard touchdown on a play-action pass to tie the game at 14-14 with 1:31 remaining.
But the Falcons’ ensuing kickoff was short, and the Panthers started at the Bowling Green 45. A 16-yard pass from Bill Stull to Cedric McGee and a 9-yarder to LeSean McCoy gave Pitt the ball at the 20, but Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt allowed the clock to run down until three seconds remained before calling a timeout to set up Conor Lee’s 36-yard field goal as time expired in the first half for a 17-14 halftime lead.
Pitt had chances to chip away at Bowling Green’s lead, but Stull threw incomplete on fourth-and-10 at the Bowling Green 44 on one series and Aaron Smith dropped a third-down pass near the visiting sideline. Lee’s 42-yard field-goal attempt with 4:02 left sailed wide left.
It ended when Lewis intercepted a Stull pass intended for Jonathan Baldwin in the end zone with 1:26 remaining.