The Pittsburgh Panthers led the University of North Carolina Tar Heels for 59 minutes and 58 seconds of the ball game Saturday afternoon. However, a UNC score and a made extra point with two seconds left was what mattered in the end, and the Tar Heels won, 37-36.
Pitt (2-2) dominated for most of the afternoon — the Panthers held the ball for 40:09 compared to the Tar Heels’ 19:51 — and had a 13-point lead with less than seven minutes to play. But the Tar Heels overcame the long odds to stave off a feisty Pitt squad in Chapel Hill when a UNC offense that was held down most of the afternoon found its footing late.
In the game, the Panthers’ pass defense proved porous once again. Tar Heels quarterback Mitch Trubisky and wide receiver Ryan Switzer enjoyed career days. Trubisky passed for 453 yards and five scores; Switzer was on the receiving end on 16 catches for a stupefying 208 yards. And Switzer’s efforts proved key on the winning drive; he was UNC’s go-to target on multiple 4th down conversions.
The final blow came on a jump ball lob from Trubisky to the 6-foot-5 Bug Howard, who outmuscled Pitt corner Ryan Lewis for the decisive score.
Still, the Panthers were incredibly close to holding onto the ‘W.’ All Pitt needed to put the game away was one fourth-down stand from the defense or one more first down from the offense. But those big plays in crucial situations eluded the Panthers once again, sending Pitt home with a second consecutive disappointing loss (the Panthers lost last week to Oklahoma State, 45-38.)
Wide receiver Quadree Henderson was explosive and led a diverse ground game; he racked up 107 yards on only nine carries. Running back James Conner gained 66 yards on 16 carries and had a touchdown to go along with fourth catches and another 64 yards. Four Panthers had rushing scores: Conner, Nate Peterman, George Aston and even freshman back Shawntez Moss, who got on the board with a 2-yard plunge.
In the grand scheme of things, a loss on the road to another ACC Coastal contender isn’t a death sentence.
But considering that this game appeared to be tailor-made for a Panther victory, this one will sting for a while. The victory gives UNC early pole position (alongside Miami) at the top of the Coastal division.
Pitt’s schedule lets up a bit in the coming weeks with home games against Marshall, Georgia Tech and, following a road game at the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech. The Panthers will have to make hay on the softer underbelly of their schedule if they’re to remain relevant in the ACC Coastal race.
For two weeks in a row, the Panthers have played an outstanding game against a quality opponent on the road — yet they’ve come up empty. Sure, Pitt could still turn out a successful season and be a factor in the Coastal division, but it’s hard to imagine at season’s end that this team doesn’t look back bitterly at another opportunity squandered.
Image credit: Robert Willett/The News & Observer