Pitt’s Bowl Hopes All But Gone After Upset Loss to North Carolina

PITTSBURGH – Anthony Ratliff-Williams 3-yard touchdown catch off a Nathan Elliott pass with 6:18 to play helped visiting North Carolina upset Pitt, 34-31, at Heinz Field.

(Photo: Darrin Hall. Photo courtesy of Pitt Athletics)

In a back-and-forth game that saw four lead changes, Ratliff-Williams’ second touchdown of the game proved to be the difference ending a six-game losing streak for the Tar Heels (2-8, 1-6 in the ACC) and putting a serious damper on Pitt’s bowl game hopes dropping the Panthers to 4-6 overall and 2-4 in the ACC with No. 17 Virginia Tech and No. 7 Miami still left for Pitt.

Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi talks about the loss.

Ratliff-Williams had a big day returning the opening kickoff 98 yards for a score, throwing a 35-yard scoring pass to Josh Cabrera on a trick play that gave North Carolina a 21-17 lead late in the first half – the Tar Heels added a field goal before the break to lead 24-17 – and then catching the late touchdown pass. He finished the game with five catches for 75 yards and the touchdown and was 1-for-1 passing for 35 yards and the score.

Thanks in part to the early kickoff return, North Carolina built a 14-3 lead at the end of the first quarter with Brandon Fritts also hauling in an 11-yard scoring pass from Elliott, who was 20 of 31 for 235 yards and the two touchdowns in his first start.

But Pitt rebounded in the second quarter scoring two consecutive touchdowns to take a 17-14 lead on a 1-yard Darrin Hall run with 9:58 left in the half, his second rushing score of the quarter – he also had a 7-yard run 46 seconds into the quarter.

The trick play, however, put North Carolina back in front and the lead went to seven when Freeman Jones hit a 51-yard field goal, a long kick at kicker unfriendly Heinz Field with 30 seconds left in the half.

The Panthers seemed poised to answer the Ratliff-Williams touchdown pass when they drove to the North Carolina 5-yard line, but Quadree Henderson was hit by J.K. Britt and fumbled at the two with Cayson Collins scooping the ball up at the goal line and racing 66 yards the other way before Jester Weah caught him. The Pitt defense held forcing the Jones field goal.

Hall’s third touchdown run of the game after halftime tied the score at 24 – Hall ran for 121 yards and four touchdowns – but Jones hit a 48-yard field goal to put North Carolina back in front, 27-24.

Pitt answered with a 1-yard Hall run at the end of a nine-play, 75-yard drive that ended with 13:16 to play to go back up, 31-27.

Jones then missed a 43-yard field goal on North Carolina’s next drive, but Pitt couldn’t muster anything and had to punt giving the Tar Heels the ball back at the NC 42 with 8:33 to play.

Three big plays then helped the Tar Heels get in position for the eventual winning touchdown with Elliott hitting Jordan Cunningham for 17 yards to the Pitt 41, Jordon Brown rushing for 14 yards to the Pitt 27 and Elliott connecting with Fritts for 16 yards to the Pitt 3.

On Pitt’s ensuing drive, a 10-yard Ben DiNucci to Weah pass got the Panthers a first down at midfield, but DiNucci was sacked back at the Pitt 41 on the next play, and the drive stalled.

Facing fourth-and-19 at the 41, Pitt elected to punt and the punt pinned North Carolina back at the 13.

But even with three timeouts in its pocket, the Panthers defense couldn’t come up with a big stop, and Pitt never saw the ball again.

Being aggressive on the first play of the drive Elliott his Brown for 24 yards to the North Carolina 37, then, after a false start penalty pushed the Tar Heels to first-and-15 at the 32, Brown was dropped for a 3-yard loss with 2:41 left forcing Pitt to call its second timeout.

Brown then picked up a first down on a 23-yard run, and then on third-and-2 from the Pitt 40 with 1:09 to go Brown, after Pitt used its final timeout, put the game away with a 10-yard first-down carry.

Brown finished the night with 70 yards rushing on 15 carries.

DiNucci was 11 of 17 for 142 yards for Pitt while adding 83 yards on the ground despite being sacked three times.

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