Detroit — Eastern Michigan coach Chris Creighton insists that senior quarterback Mike Glass III is the player he showed for most of the Quick Lane Bowl on Thursday night at Ford Field.
Not the guy he was in the closing seconds.
The quarterback's game was a microcosm of his team's — a brilliant night ultimately finished with disappointment — as Glass was ejected and Eastern Michigan lost, 34-30, to Pittsburgh.
Glass was ejected with 9 seconds left before his team's final offensive play, hitting an opponent in the facemask with a punch, then inadvertently hitting a referee's hat off with a second punch at another Pitt player.
"He is a phenomenal kid," Creighton said of Glass, who was not made available for comment. "And thank God, he’s hotly competitive. But absolutely zero excuse for what happened and he knows it.
"He’s in tears in the locker room, begging me to talk to the team before I could say a word. So, he made a mistake and he’s truly sorry for it. And I’m ultimately responsible for it, and I’m embarrassed.
"But I love him 100 percent. That’s not who we want to be. And it’d be really too bad if that’s what ya’ll make this out to be tonight. Because that’s not who we are."
Despite playing in front of a raucous, home-like crowd, and having chances late, Eastern Michigan (6-7) couldn’t hold off the Atlantic Coast Conference Panthers.
Pitt’s Taysir Mack corralled a Kenny Pickett pass with one hand, and despite an EMU defender all over him and flagged for defensive pass interference, caught the 25-yard score for the win with 47 seconds remaining.
The final score was set up by two third-down conversions by Pickett and the Panthers. The quarterback was named the game’s MVP after finishing 27 of 39 passing for 361 yards and three touchdowns.
Eastern Michigan led or was tied throughout before the winning play, with Pitt responding to come back and tie the game four times only to have the Eagles ultimately pull back ahead.
Until the final Panthers drive.
Eastern Michigan was going for its second bowl win in Division I history and first since 1987 when EMU topped San Jose State, 30-27. The Eagles have finished three of their last four seasons in bowl games, losing them all.
In the latest EMU loss, Glass completed 28 of 50 passes for 311 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.
"Just from the get-go, Mike just came in and led the team and everyone got behind him," running back Shaq Vann said of Glass, in his second year with EMU. "He got us to this point, and we're thankful to have him."
Added linebacker Kobie Beltram: "He was our leader through winter, through summer, for camp and all that. He's our leader and always will be."
After the ejection, backup quarterback Preston Hutchinson threw his only pass on the night the next play, turning it over on downs in Eastern’s final hope.
Glass posted on Twitter after the game that he "let God and my family down!"
Glass passed Charlie Batch’s Eastern Michigan single-season record for total offense with a 50-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. Batch, the former Lions quarterback, had 3,390 yards in 1997.
Glass also passed Batch’s touchdown record from 1997 with his 24th touchdown pass of the season in the third quarter.
Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi, the former Michigan State defensive coordinator, earned his first bowl win in four tries with the Panthers (8-5).
"Like our kids have done all year, they fight, they claw, they got hearts," Narduzzi said.
Narduzzi said Eastern Michigan instigated animosity between the teams in activities throughout the week put on by bowl organizers.
"I talked to our guys several times, even in the pre, pregame, 'We're going to shut our mouths, talk with our pads,'" he said. "Our kids did a good job."
Former Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said his Pitt players were instructed to talk with their pads in Quick Lane Bowl win vs. EMU. The Detroit News
Throughout most of the night, the pro-Eastern Michigan crowd was enjoying the moment, a big one for Creighton’s program, but ultimately not the final result.
Arthur Jackson III caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from Glass with 10:45 to play, giving Eastern Michigan a 27-20 lead.
However, Pitt answered with a 19-yard touchdown pass from Pickett to Jared Wayne to tie the score at 27-apiece with 8:22 to go.
Then, a nine-play, 44-yard drive set up kicker Chad Ryland, who line-drived a side-winding field goal from 48 yards — his third of the game — to give Eastern Michigan a 30-27 lead with 6:00 remaining.
Pickett led a 10-play, 91-yard drive for the final score, a finish reminiscent of many for Narduzzi's team.
"There's really no pep talk that's going to get you to go there, you're either ready or you're not," Pickett said. "I think we were comfortable in that situation, we've been there before. We kind of just went out and executed."
Eastern Michigan led 20-17 at halftime but blew its chance for more as a desperate attempt at points late failed deep in Pitt territory.
With no timeouts, Glass completed a pass to Line Latu down to the Pitt 14. The scrambling Eagles got the snap off but Glass couldn’t get the spike down before the clock struck zero, instead gaining 1-yard on a rush as the half ended.
EMU cornerback Kevin McGill, a third-team All-MAC selection, was also ejected in the third quarter after an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for a confrontation after an Eastern punt return.
Creighton was told McGill spit on a Pitt player while the players were shoving each other.
"There wasn't very clear communication throughout much of the game at all, but that was communicated," Creighton said when asked if McGill spit on the opponent.
Creighton continued about McGill and Glass: "There's absolutely no excuse for any of that. They're embarrassed about it, they apologized to the team. I'm embarrassed. I apologize to anyone who was watching and a part of it. Their emotions both got the best of them."
The game drew a Quick Lane Bowl record 34,765 fans in the sixth year of the annual bowl. The previous Motor City Bowl, which became the Little Caesars Bowl and lasted 17 years, had drawn more during 13 years of its existence until the annual game came back under the Detroit Lions umbrella.
"Awesome," Creighton said about the crowd. "Six years ago, the vision was to try to make the football program a source of pride for the athletic department, for the university, for Ypsilanti and even the region.
"They came out, and I'm very, very, very thankful and appreciative, and I know our football team is. And we're sorry that we didn't get it done for them."
Eastern Michigan sophomore Hassan Beydoun (Dearborn) had career highs with nine catches for 113 yards. His previous highs were four catches for 70 yards in October against Western Michigan.
With 12 catches for 165 yards for Pitt, wide receiver Maurice Ffrench broke Larry Fitzgerald's single-season program record for receptions. Fitzgerald caught 92 in 2003, and Ffrench finished with 96.
Ffrench's 96-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter also broke the program record for longest passing play.
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.