Pitt Outlasts North Carolina 30-23 (OT)
[Pittsburgh ,PA] The Late, great NFL Films narrator John Facenda said it best: “Great teams aren’t always great. They’re just great when they have to be.” Such a quote describes the Pitt Panthers Thursday night matchup vs. the North Carolina Tar Heels, a team that has beaten them all but one time since the Panthers joined the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC).
But in this 2021 season, Pitt has truly played great when they needed to, and were hoping to keep that streak going when they welcomed the Tar Heels to Heinz Field in a Nationally-Televised game which included 30 NFL scouts who were watching Pitt QB Kenny Pickett and UNC QB Sam Howell, and the home crowd and students who were hoping that their team would prevail and get closer to clinching their 2nd ACC Costal Division in 3 years.
The Panthers did not disappoint as they ended up beating the Tar Heels 30-23 in overtime when Pickett found TE Lucas Krull for the game-winning TD and DB MJ Devonshire intercepted Howell’s pass on fourth down. Pitt is now 8-2 and 5-1 in the ACC.
“What a ball game, huh? You guys sleeping in here or what? I’m so happy for those guys in that locker room. Veterans Day. Great win.” Said Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi. “Want to thank all the veterans out there across the country. Everybody that protects this country and fights for us, you know. Our kids fought hard just like they have fought and appreciate all the efforts today.”
Although the Panthers proved to be great in overtime, they were not as great in the second half, when they failed to score a single point after scoring twenty-three points in the first half and allowed Howell and the Tar Heels to score seventeen points in the second half, tying Pitt with 1:00 left in regulation.
Despite the struggles, Pitt’s defense rose to the occasion against UNC several times with five sacks and had three turnover on downs.
“What do you say? I talked to our defense today. We had a 30-minute meeting over in the Duratz (facility).” Said Narduzzi “And after (defensive coordinator Randy) Bates got done I said, ‘Everybody’s talking about offense. You win championships with defense.’ That was a championship effort today by our defense. Three fourth-down stops. We turned the ball over late. Forced them to a field goal.”
In years past, Pitt may not have won this game. It is tough to regain momentum after having a huge lead, but this year’s Panthers team has refused to be denied and whatever it took to get the win.
“We didn’t practice much this week. We had to keep them fresh and I got that from Coach Tomlin.” Said Narduzzi “I appreciate Coach Tomlin and how they deal with it in the NFL. It’s nice to have neighbors like that.”
Pickett passed for 346 yards, 3 TDs and one interception. In a season in which he has played like Superman, he and the offense looked like bumbling Clark Kents in the 3rd and 4th quarter as UNC’s defense was their kryptonite as they adjusted after the Panthers ran over them in the first quarter.
“I didn’t have to do anything. I don’t have to keep them focused. Kenny comes back and does what he does. That’s Kenny Pickett. Nobody’s perfect. That tells you what kind of competitor he is.”-Said Narduzzi.
In the first quarter, RB Vincent Davis scored the Panthers first TD on a 2-yard run, and then Pickett found TE Gavin Bartholomew for a 1-yard pass, then K Sam Scarton kicked a 34-yard FG. In the second quarter, the Tar Heels got on the board when Howell (22/33, 296 yards, 2 TDs, Int) found WR Antoine Green (3 rec, 108 yards) for a 76-yard TD in which he was wide-open after a Pitt defender fell. But the Panthers struck back when Pickett found WR Jared Wayne (3 Rec, 70) for a 32-yard TD to extend their lead to 23-7. (Scarton missed the extra-point attempt) The Panthers tried to add on to their lead before the end of the half, but Scarton’s FG attempt was blocked.
In the second half, the Tar Heels showed why they were able to come back and beat ACC Atlantic Division leader Wake Forest last week as they slowly began to chip away at the Panthers lead. In the 3rd quarter, Powell would find Green again for a 23-yard TD, and then after Pitt was forced to punt, the Tar Heels went on a 92-yard drive that ended with a 1-yard TD run by Howell, and when Pickett’s pass was intercepted in the ensuing drive, it appeared that Howell and the Tar Heels were about to take the lead and pull of the upset over Pitt, but the Tar Heels was held to a FG, which tied the game at 23.
“There was talk about letting them score and we would go down and score. I was, like, I can’t do that. We’re going to stop them here, but when they got it down to, I think, the one.”-Said Narduzzi.
In overtime, the Tar Heels won the coin toss and elected to defer, giving Pitt the ball at the twenty-five. Pickett would find Krull for the TD as Pitt looked like the offense from the 1st quarter, and then when UNC took the field, the Panthers defense also looked like they did in the first quarter as they kept the pressure on Howell, forcing him to complete 3 incomplete passes and his final pass on 4th down landed in the hands of Devonshire, which ended the game.
“Just incredible efforts by a bunch of guys. M.J. Devonshire with the finishing touch, and I think Cam puts the pressure on the quarterback at that time. Our kids were fresh. That was part of the plan.”-Said Narduzzi.
The Panthers will now prepare for one of their biggest games in years as they will host the Virginia Cavaliers (6-3, 4-2 ACC) with the Costal Division Title on the line. Their goal is to remain great-especially when they must be.
“We’ve got a great football team. I think we’ve got a championship football team in that locker room.” Said Narduzzi “When you talk about the explosive offense we have and have had all
year. And again our defense keeps getting better every week, I think. It says a lot about those guys in there. They work hard. And we’ve got a good football team in that locker room.”
Notes: Kenny Pickett threw for 346 yards to become the Panthers’ all-time career passing yards leader. He now has 11,501, surpassing Alex Van Pelt, who threw for 11,267 yards from 1989-92. Pickett now has 3,517 passing yards on the year, which ranks second on Pitt’s single-season list. The school season record is 3,679 set by Rod Rutherford in 2003. With three touchdown passes this evening, Pickett now has thirty-two on the year, the second most at Pitt in a season. Pitt’s record is 37 TD passes, set by Dan Marino in 1981 and tied by Rod Rutherford in 2003. Pickett now has seventy-one career TD passes, second at Pitt only to Dan Marino, who threw seventy- nine from 1979-82…Jordan Addison had eighty-four receiving yards (on six catches), giving him 1,070 on the season. He is Pitt’s first 1,000-yard receiver since Tyler Boyd compiled 1,261 in 2014.
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