Pitt falls in 37-36 thriller at North Carolina


James Conner’s 130 total yards weren’t enough for Pitt in a 37-36 loss at North Carolina (pictured vs. Penn State 9/10). John Hamilton | Staff Photographer

By Dan Sostek | Senior Staff Writer

North Carolina senior wideout Ryan Switzer might be done terrorizing the Pitt secondary, but on Saturday, he made his final go-around count.

Thanks in large part to Switzer’s 16 catches for 208 yards in his last game against the Panthers, Pitt lost a heartbreaker in Chapel Hill.

The Panthers (2-2 overall, 0-1 ACC) blew a 13-point fourth quarter lead, falling to the North Carolina Tar Heels (3-2 overall, 1-0 ACC), 37-36, on a touchdown reception by Bug Howard with just two seconds left.

Pitt received an early scare from their familiar foe in Switzer, as the wideout returned a Ryan Winslow punt into the end zone for an apparent 89-yard touchdown. But the score was called back due to a holding penalty, pushing the Tar Heels back to their own 5-yard line.

That holding call proved to be costly, as Pitt defensive end Ejuan Price wrapped up Switzer on a jet sweep in the end zone for a safety, giving the Panthers an early 2-0 lead.

Pitt was driving on the following possession, with the ball near the red zone on a second down. But a high snap by center Alex Officer lost 28 yards, and Pitt had to settle for a 50-yard field goal by kicker Chris Blewitt.

UNC’s early struggles on offense continued, as Pitt safety Jordan Whitehead forced a fumble with a punishing hit on Tar Heels’ tailback Elijah Hood and the Panthers jumped on the ball for the recovery.

On the next Pitt drive, Nathan Peterman connected with tight end Jaymar Parrish on a big third down pass for a 22-yard completion, setting Pitt up at the 1-yard line. Running back James Conner hammered it in on the next play, giving the Panthers a 12-0 lead early in the second quarter.

The Tar Heels got on the board on their next possession, utilizing a 58-yard catch-and-run by Switzer to set up for a 39-yard touchdown pass from Mitch Trubisky to 6-foot-4 receiver Mack Hollins, narrowing Pitt’s lead to 12-7.

Pitt countered with a 39-yard reception by Conner, leading to a three-yard touchdown run by fullback George Aston to extend the Panthers’ lead to 19-7.

Once again, though, the Tar Heels answered a Pitt touchdown with one of their own. Trubisky found Switzer in the end zone for a 19-yard score, but UNC failed a two-point conversion attempt and the Panthers held a 19-13 lead.

Pitt looked content to run out the clock at the end of the first half, but Quadree Henderson fumbled with 43 seconds left and the Tar Heels recovered. UNC put together a quick drive to cut the halftime score to 19-16 on kicker Nick Weiler’s 34-yard field goal.

The Tar Heels received the ball first in the second half, but Pitt forced a three-and-out thanks to a third-down sack by linebacker Quintin Wirginis. On the following offensive drive, the Panthers staged a showcase for running back Chawntez Moss.

Moss, a true freshman, broke several tackles and ran for 24 yards on just three carries, punctuated by a two-yard score to push Pitt’s advantage back to 10.

Just when it seemed like Pitt had regained momentum, Switzer torched the Panthers for a 44-yard catch and run. Trubisky marched the Tar Heels down the field with ease, finishing off another touchdown drive with a one-yard touchdown toss to wide receiver Austin Proehl.

Continuing the back-and-forth affair, Pitt drove 82 yards on 11 plays for a score, highlighted by strong runs by Conner and Aston. Peterman capped the drive off with a one-yard sneak on third-and-goal for a touchdown to give the Panthers a 33-23 lead.

Pitt’s defense recorded another stop late in the third quarter, as Weiler missed a 35-yard field goal with 1:06 left, but the Panthers came up empty on the ensuing possession. Peterman sailed a pass beyond Qadree Ollison on third down, missing what would have been an easy first down, and Pitt was forced to punt.

After another UNC three-and-out, Henderson ripped off a 37-yard jet sweep to put him over 100 yards rushing on the day. But Pitt’s offense couldn’t move into the red zone, settling for a 40-yard Blewitt field goal to make it 36-23.

UNC WR Ryan Switzer (3) torched the Panthers for the fourth year in a row. Jeffrey A. Camarati | Courtesy of UNC Athletics.
UNC WR Ryan Switzer (3) torched the Panthers for the fourth year in a row. Jeffrey A. Camarati | Courtesy of UNC Athletics.

The Panthers had the Tar Heels on the ropes, but Trubisky connected with Switzer for a first down on fourth-and-3 midway through the fourth quarter. He then hit his 6-foot-5 receiver Howard on a goal-line fade to bring his team within six with 5:24 left.

Pitt gave the ball right back to UNC after a quick three-and-out, punting with 3:48 remaining in the game. The Panthers again had an opportunity to seal the victory, and again, the Tar Heels converted.

And once again, it was Switzer, who hauled in a 15-yard pass to extend the game.

Another fourth and six arose three plays later, and again the Tar Heels converted, as Trubisky hit his receiver Proehl for a first down.

Remarkably, another fourth down came, and the Tar Heels converted again on another bullet to Switzer –– his 16th catch of the game.

The Tar Heels marched closer and closer to the goal line, and, with two seconds remaining, Trubisky connected on another fade to Howard, giving the Tar Heels their first win in ACC play.

The Panthers return to Heinz Field next weekend, as they take on a non-conference foe in the Marshall Thundering Herd. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.