By: Luke Olander
With adrenaline flowing and hearts pounding, Pitt had a chance to secure their footing within the conference. In a matter of minutes, its hopes were dashed before its very eyes. The pillars that provided a foundation for the rest of the season crumbled as Pitt’s defense did during the final drive.
After healing its wounds from a heartbreaking 45-38 loss to Oklahoma State, Pitt (2-1,0-0 ACC) found itself in another high-scoring offensive foray against defending champion and ACC Coastal division rival North Carolina (2-1,0-0 ACC). A game that had the ability to dictate Pitt’s position in the division, of course, turned into a roller coaster ride that eventually flew off of the rails.
Pitt traveled into Kenan Stadium with revenge on its mind from last season as 54,500 fans waited to see a rematch of the two best teams in the ACC Coastal last year.
The first quarter started out marvelously for Pitt as Ejuan Price established his presence early by taking down UNC wide-receiver Ryan Switzer in his own end zone for a safety. The ensuing possession led to a 50-yard Chris Blewitt field goal, bringing the score to 5-0 in favor of Pitt.
On the next North Carolina possession, Jordan Whitehead sprang into action by forcing Tar Heel running back Elijah Hood to fumble the ball. This lead to a recovery by Saleem Brightwell, giving the Panthers a chance to take a two possession lead.
On their first drive of the second quarter, James Conner ran for his first and only touchdown of the game after a 22-yard pass from Nate Peterman to Jaymar Parrish. Pitt led 12-0.
North Carolina would answer back in a flash by exploiting Pitt’s secondary for a 58-yard catch by Ryan Switzer and a 39-yard touchdown catch by Mack Hollins from Mitch Trubisky. UNC brought the game back to 12-7. This narrative would prove to be consequential in the game’s outcome.
As the quarter proceeded, Pitt began using misdirection runs and jet-sweeps to confuse the Tar Heel defense. A 39-yard catch and run by James Conner led to a touchdown rush by George Aston, giving him his third of the season. The score was 19-7.
North Carolina surged back with nine unanswered points via a 19-yard touchdown catch by Ryan Switzer with a failed two-point-conversion attempt and a field goal by Nick Weiler that came to fruition after a Quadree Henderson fumble. At halftime the score was 19-16 with Pitt leading by a nose.
The second half took on the form of a heavyweight title bout as both teams began throwing haymakers at each other. The scoring commenced with an impressive series from freshman Chawntez Moss, who drove the ball up the field and scored a 2-yard rushing touchdown to bring the score to 26-16.
On the next drive, Trubisky continued to exploit the holes in Pitt’s secondary with a 45-yard catch by Switzer that set up a 2-yd touchdown pass caught by Austin Prohl.
Pitt went back to the rushing game as James Conner’s 27-yard run and George Aston’s 14-yard set up an easy quarterback sneak for Peterman, bringing the Panthers back up by two possessions with a score of 33-23. Unfortunately for Pitt, that would be its last touchdown of the contest.
Quarter number four began quietly with a series of three-and-outs by both teams. Pitt broke the scoring drought as Quadree Henderson’s 37-yard rush set up a 40-yard field goal by Blewitt. The score was 36-23.
From that point onward, Trubisky, Switzer, and receiver Bug Howard made it their personal goal to exploit the Pitt secondary in stunning fashion. With 9:10 left in the game, Switzer caught a crucial pass on fourth and two that led to an over-the-shoulder 2-yard touchdown catch by Bug Howard over Ryan Lewis. UNC was now within one possession with a score of 36-30.
With the game in the hands of Pitt’s offense, an astute Tar Heel defense forced a crucial three-and-out, giving Trubisky an opportunity to lead his team down the field with 3:18 to go in the ballgame. He methodically led North Carolina up the field in dramatic fashion, converting on three fourth-down situations en route to another 2-yard touchdown catch by Bug Howard. Again, the victim was Ryan Lewis as Howard soared over top of him to make the spectacular two-handed catch with just two seconds remaining. UNC won the game at the buzzer, 37-36.
For Pitt, Nate Peterman completed 14 of 18 passes for 140 yards with no passing touchdowns or interceptions. Henderson had his first career 100-yard rushing game with a total of 107 yards on nine carries, and James Conner ran the ball 16 times for 66 yards and one touchdown. Pitt’s leading receiver was Conner with four receptions and 64 yards.
North Carolina’s offense was led by Mitch Trubisky who completed 35 of 46 passes for 453 yards and five touchdowns. Its leading wide receiver was Ryan Switzer with 16 receptions, a monumental 208 yards and one touchdown. Austin Prohl had seven receptions, 99 yards and one touchdown also.
As Pitt’s season progresses, many questions about the secondary persist after being completely dismantled by both Oklahoma State and North Carolina. Coach Narduzzi must answer these questions as soon as possible or else this season will fall by the wayside.