PITTSBURGH — Pitt finally broke the North Carolina curse. At least for a year.
After six straight losses to the Tar Heels, Pitt finally got their revenge. It didn’t necessarily come in the fashion that the Panthers hoped for, but a win is a win, especially against a team that has given the Pitt program the most issues since joining the ACC.
“I guess the monkey is off the back,” Head coach Pat Narduzzi said following the game.
Narduzzi was more happy with getting in the win column. The Pitt players had more thoughts on finally getting bragging rights against the Tar Heels.
“There was more emphasis probably put on (beating UNC) by the players,” Pitt center Jimmy Morrissey said. “I’ve been here for four years, and I’ve never felt what it’s like to beat them, so yeah (was) more emphasis (for this game).”
North Carolina is still 10-4 all-time against Pitt. But Thursday’s win might get things going in the other direction.
Winning Never Seems Easy For Pitt
The Panthers thought they could maybe cruise after leading the Tar Heels by 14 points near the end of the third quarter, but North Carolina never went away.
Quarterback Sam Howell led his team into the end zone on back to back possessions to tie the game in the fourth quarter. The two sides exchanged field goals near the end of regulation to give the fans at Heinz Field free football.
Kenny Pickett ran in his second rushing touchdown of the game on the first possession of the overtime period. Howell and the Tar Heels offense had run out of luck on their possession, and on the final play of the game, Howell’s pass was deflected at the line by Pitt’s Deslin Alexandre.
Pitt stormed the field and snuck out another nerve-wracking win that almost slipped away.
“My heart is beating (more) when I’m on the bench watching the defense,” Pickett said. “When I’m out there, you kind of just lock back in, and I’m really calm.”
Pickett and the veterans on the team have been around a number of those kinds of games.
“It was just a gutsy performance by everybody,” Pickett said. “I’m just really happy that we came out with the win.”
It was the fifth time that Pitt gave away a fourth-quarter lead in the seven-games that they have played North Carolina in since joining the ACC.
It Wasn’t A Shock From Shocky
Maurice Ffrench sat out on Wednesday with a broken jaw that he suffered in the Panthers game at Georgia Tech. Ffrench and Taysir Mack had been the primary targets pretty much the whole season, but sophomore Shocky Jacques-Louis has shown signs of his growth in the receiving game.
Jacques-Louis sure made his impact against UNC, when Pitt’s offense needed it the most. He totaled four catches, 104 receiving yards (both career-highs), and a 74-yard touchdown.
“(Ffrench) has been helping me (leading up to this game), and telling me to get ready for (this) game. … especially mentally,” Jacques-Louis said. “He was telling me that I needed to step up.”
Jacques-Louis wasn’t surprised with the 74-yard touchdown catch (that tied the longest offensive gain for Pitt all season).
“That’s definitely my game,” Jacques-Louis said. “(I’m here) to take the top off (of the defense).”
Narduzzi recognized the importance of Jacques-Louis stepping up in a critical spot.
“Shocky had a big day,” Narduzzi said. “Guys made plays for us,”
Pickett Vs. Howell
In a game where Pitt was going to have to match the high-powered offense of UNC, Kenny Pickett was the undoubted leader in the huddle and making the crucial plays to put the Panthers ahead when the clock hit zero.
“I was really proud of Kenny tonight,” Narduzzi said. “He commanded the huddle and was a field general today.
Pickett threw for 359 yards on 24-of-41 passing. Pickett completed a pass to nine different Panthers receivers. He also ran for 53 yards on 12 carries and two touchdowns.
“Kenny was outstanding,” Narduzzi said. “I don’t think he (threw) a bad pass, obviously we had some drops, but (Kenny) was on fire all day long.”
Coming into the game, the quarterback with the most talk around his name was North Carolina’s, Sam Howell. Howell came into Thursday’s game just four touchdowns away from grabbing the Tar Heel single-season record for most passing touchdowns. Howell’s three passing scores on Thursday put him only one back (29) of that record of 30 passing touchdowns.
Howell completed 27-of-43 passes for 322 yards in the loss. Pitt’s Damarri Mathis intercepted Howell at the end of the first half, to give him at least one blemish on the stat sheet.
Howell did miss some crucial throws in the fourth quarter and overtime.
Pitt starting safety Damar Hamlin was ejected in the second quarter of the game for hitting a UNC receiver head-to-head. The play called targeting on the field and after the referees reviewed the play and confirmed that Hamlin would be ejected for the remainder of the game.
Since the play happened in the first half, Hamlin won’t miss any time against Virginia Tech next Saturday.
Hamlin was the third Panther that has been ejected this year on a targeting call.
Narduzzi thought that Hamlin’s absence played a significant role in the final score.
“(That) was probably the play of the game,” Narduzzi said. “I don’t know what targeting is anymore.”