Voytik shines in bowl opportunity
by RICHARD ROBERTS Banner Sports Editor
Jan 05, 2014 | 1138 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
PITT QUARTERBACK and former Cleveland Blue Raider Chad Voytik scores a go-ahead touchdown for the Panthers against Bowling Green in the fourth quarter of the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, in Detroit. University of Pittsburgh photo
PITT QUARTERBACK and former Cleveland Blue Raider Chad Voytik scores a go-ahead touchdown for the Panthers against Bowling Green in the fourth quarter of the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, in Detroit. University of Pittsburgh photo
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Former Cleveland Blue Raider Chad Voytik had no idea he would become the game-winning quarterback for the Pitt Panthers two quarters before he was unofficially scheduled to take over the starting position.

Voytik and the Panthers were in a heated battle with Bowling Green in the 2013 Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl in Detroit the day after Christmas. With the game tied 17-17 at the beginning of the third quarter, Voytik was tossed into the lion's den and came out on the other side a bonafide leader after directing his team to a 30-27 victory over the Falcons.

The second half "start" came as a complete surprise to the new Pitt QB who was looking forward to a plane ride home with his family to celebrate the Christmas holidays. He found out just before the start of the second half that starting quarterback Tom Savage would not be returning to the game after a rib injury.

"No, to be honest I wasn't," admitted Voytik when asked if he expected to play in the bowl game. "I was excited about coming home. And as bad as that sounds, Tom has always gone back into the game. So when he gets hurt it seems like he's not really hurt. It's just a little speed bump and he goes right back in. Usually when he's limping or something like that I expect him to go right back in, but in this case it was more serious and I had to go in there."

It was near the end of halftime when Voytik found out he would be under center when the Panthers took their first snap of the second half. Savage, according to Voytik, came into the locker room, took his shoulder pads off and saw the doctor. When he came back in the locker room the shoulder pads went back on and Voytik was ready to resume his spot on the Pitt sideline.

"Immediately I thought he was going back in like I thought he would," he recalled after seeing Savage don the pads again.

It wasn't until the team medical staff hid Savage's helmet and he put a sweatshirt on did Voytik realize his time had come.

"After that coach (Brooks) Bollinger, my quarterback coach, came in and said, 'Alright, let's do this.' That was my nod," said the new Pitt QB.

Was he nervous?

"I was,” he admitted. "I was very nervous," he said with a smile.

But there was no time to waste dealing with nerves. The moment for Voytik had come and he was ready to take the reigns.

"I was (ready)," he said. "Once I got in the huddle a calmness came over me. I always say this, but it was just like playing in high school again. It was neat to go from extremely nervous to once I was on the field about to perform the task I was nervous about, become suddenly calm. It was cool."

Voytik readily gave his University of Pittsburgh teammates credit for helping him take control.

"They responded well. They helped me more than I could ask. I couldn't have done it without them," he said. "The guys around me, James Connor our running back, was breaking records. It was the same thing for (wide receiver) Tyler Boyd. Just to have that around me was very helpful."

Connor rushed for 229 yards breaking the previous record set by Pitt running back Tony Dorsett in the Panthers' 1977 Sugar Bowl win over Georgia. Boyd caught eight passes for 173 yards and scored on a punt return.

As cool as Voytik became as the second half progressed, he admitted the adrenaline was running pretty strong during the first few minutes of his initial appearance on the field.

"It (adrenaline) was running pretty heavy. I had to get into the flow of the game," he said. "But after the first drive I had a shot at the end zone and I threw a decent ball. At that point I was like, OK, I'm just going to settle down and play ball."

It was a roll out to Voytik's left with the Panthers trapped deep in their own territory that really settled his nerves. The completion gave Pitt a first down and sparked the Panthers' first scoring drive of the second half.

"That roll out got things going for me confidence-wise. That first completion was big," said Voytik. "Then it was just football again and I was just having fun. I really was. I just started having a lot of fun out there which was cool."

Minutes later, the first of a trio of big plays pulled off by the new Pitt QB came as a rather serendipitous accident. The "miscue" by Voytik turned into a 63-yard pass play to Boyd, setting up another big play by the red-shirt sophomore.

"It wasn't much of a read, it was just a shot taker pass," Voytik said of the heave and catch play. "I rolled out and I saw Tyler had beaten his man on a stutter move. It was really kind of funny. I told the guys later I would have over thrown him if I had gotten everything on the throw. When I threw it, the ball kind of slipped out of my hand and it ended up being right where it needed to be. But I will swear if I had gotten all of it, it would have been over his head."

Moments later, Voytik and the Panthers found themselves on the Bowling Green 5-yard line setting up the second big play of the game for the young quarterback. Taking the snap and rolling to his right, Voytik looked for his tight end JP Holtz to come open, but saw open field and a clear path to the end zone just ahead.

"I had the option to either pass or run. I could have found a throw there but my read was to run it. I thought I could make it (to the end zone) and I did," he remembered.

And make it he did, scoring the touchdown that put the Panthers out front 27-20. After crossing the goal line Voytik said he was at a loss as to what to do next.

"I didn't know what to do. I've seen guys celebrate but I just clinched up. I was so excited just looking into the crowd. It was a great feeling," he said through a smile.

Voytik admitted keeping the football he carried for his first TD as a souvenir — a trophy that also came with a twist.

"The funny thing is it was Bowling Green's football," Voytik said through a huge grin. "We had a quick turnaround in downs and they didn't change the ball. So I have Bowling Green's football."

A big yard gainer on a bootleg by Voytik in the fourth quarter kept a Panther's drive alive.

"They were trying to stop James Connor and the back side was open. We called the bootleg and I took it for a few yards and a first down," he said of the effort.

"It felt so easy offensively out there because we were moving the ball on them and they really couldn't stop us. All along I kept thinking if we get the ball we would score. (I felt like) If we needed a touchdown we would score and if we needed a field goal we would score. It really felt like our game. I was just happy we stopped them on their last drive and kept the lead. It was a big stop by our defense. I think we all felt like it was our game all along."

When the day was done and the win secured, the new Pitt QB gave way to his inner feelings and let the joy of the day and his first big win as a college quarterback take over.

"I'll be honest, I teared up. It was an emotional time," he said unashamedly. "I hadn't played in a college game that really meant something. I've come in and mopped up a little bit or kind of finished the game when we had an 11-point lead. But there has been nothing like that where I had to actually earn it. It was really satisfying, I really enjoyed it. I was excited and will use it as a slingshot into next season. It was a good end to the season."

Voytik will have little time to enjoy the accolades associated with being a bowl winner. Now comes the off season and continued training on the football field, weight room and classroom. He is not counting on his first success to make a difference when it comes time to resume the battle for the starting quarterback slot in the spring.

"It's going to be a competition, it always is at this level," he said. "Trey (Anderson, a junior) is a great quarterback and we are bringing in two freshmen. Nothing is going to be handed to you so you have to earn it."