PITTSBURGH — Pitt has played North Carolina five times in conference play since joining the ACC in 2013, all five games had a one-score finish, and all five were North Carolina, after the Tar Heels upset the Panthers, 34-31 at Heinz Field on Thursday.
The Panthers, which fell to 4-6 with the loss, got off to a slow start, spotting the Tar Heels a 14-3 lead in the first quarter before mounting a comeback on the strength of running back Darrin Hall’s huge day.
Hall finished the evening with 23 carries for 128 yards and four touchdowns, the first time a Pitt rusher had scored four times since James Conner did against the same North Carolina squad back in 2014.
But like in 2014, when the Panthers surrendered a touchdown with 50 seconds left in the game — and then again in 2016, when they gave up a score with 2 seconds on the clock, it was a late score that did the Panthers in.
This time, it came with 6:18 on the clock as Anthony Ratliff-Williams caught a 3-yard touchdown pass to cap off an 8-play, 58-yard scoring drive that gave the Tar Heels the lead for good.
Ratliff-Williams was a thorn in the Panthers’ side from the opening whistle on, as he returned the opening kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown and also threw a 35-yard pass on a trick play to fellow receiver Josh Cabrera in the second quarter.
Outside of Hall’s huge evening, Pitt’s offense couldn’t muster much of an attack against the Tar Heels, who improved to 2-8 on the season.
Ben DiNucci went 11 of 17 but his completions went for just 142 yards. He spent most of his time in the pocket running for his life. He ended up rushing for 83 yards but was also sacked three times.
Pitt had a chance to win the game on a final offensive drive, but a sack stalled that and the defense couldn’t get the ball back.
The Panthers visit Virginia Tech next Saturday.