Homecoming weekend will not see any victory lights as the Pitt football team fell to No. 20 NC State at Heinz Field Saturday.
Outfitted in retro royal blue and maize, the Panthers kept up with their opponent for the first half, but the Wolfpack broke away to a 35-17 win after lapses in defense and a quarterback change in the second half.
“The kids did a lot of good things out there,” head coach Pat Narduzzi said. “[They] made some mistakes obviously, against a top 20 football team, but give them credit. They finished the game.”
Receiving the ball to start the game, the Wolfpack offense was immediately put to the test. Pitt’s defense made quick work, stifling the drive after nine plays for 41 offensive yards and forcing NC State to turn the ball over on downs.
After exchanging three-and-outs, Pitt received possession. Junior wide receiver Quadree Henderson returned the 57-yard punt for 28 yards. He slipped down the sideline before being forced out of bounds.
The Panthers moved quickly on the ensuing drive. On second down, quarterback Ben DiNucci sailed a 33-yard pass to redshirt senior wide receiver Jester Weah, who hopped into the endzone for a touchdown, giving Pitt a 7-0 lead.
The lead was short-lived, though, as NC State’s Nyheim Hines rushed unobstructed down the field for an 83-yard touchdown on the following drive. The kick was good, leaving the Panthers and Wolfpack tied at seven with 4:31 left in the quarter.
Pitt attempted to move its way back toward the end zone from the 18, but they made little progress, and punted the ball 53 yards for a three-and-out.
NC State capitalized on the punt as Hines burst down the length of the field for a 92-yard punt return touchdown — the longest punt return against Pitt since 2012 — to put the Wolfpack in the lead 14-7 with 55 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
The Wolfpack opened the second quarter with a 22-yard rush from junior running back Reggie Gallaspy II, moving the play to the 50-yard line for a first down. The Panther defense held strong, though, and forced NC State to punt.
Both teams punted on the next two drives, but the Panthers regained possession at their 33-yard line on their second possession of the quarter.
With a successful combination of pass and run plays, the Panthers migrated to NC State’s 11-yard line. DiNucci then passed to redshirt junior offensive lineman Brian O’Neill who raced into the endzone.
The score was redacted after review, though, and the Panthers found themselves one yard away from a touchdown. Junior running back Darrin Hall rushed into the endzone, and after redshirt freshman Alex Kessman’s kick, the game was tied at 14.
The Wolfpack tried to make the most of the remaining 2:38, but a 15-yard pass interference penalty resulted in their own recalled touchdown. Following a short rush by redshirt junior quarterback Ryan Finley, NC State attempted and missed a 34-yard field goal, ending the half 14-14.
Pitt received the kickoff to start the half, but quickly turned the ball over as senior cornerback Mike Stevens intercepted a DiNucci pass at the Pitt 42-yard line. But, after a quick four downs, they punted the ball back, and a new drive started for the Panthers at the 11.
Pitt was unsuccessful, though, and reciprocated with a 42-yard punt back to the Wolfpack. NC State also had little luck, resulting in a third three-and-out punt.
Then, after yet another unsuccessful combination of passes and rushing, Pitt punted in the fourth three-and-out in a row.
Finally, after receiving the kick at their own 34, NC State began to make moves. After four consecutive passes for a total of 63 yards, the Wolfpack entered the red zone on a three-yard rush touchdown by redshirt sophomore wide receiver Jakobi Meyers, putting them up 21-14 with 2:32 remaining in the quarter.
Narduzzi pulled DiNucci and gave the ball to first-year quarterback Kenny Pickett, who has thrown a total of one pass in his collegiate career.
“I think Kenny’s going to be a good football player,” Narduzzi said. “We’re going to need him somewhere. I don’t want his first action to be coming when he has to go in there.”
Pickett didn’t get much of a chance to display his passing abilities, though, as he rushed for two yards and followed that with an incomplete pass intended for Hall.
Redshirt senior punter Ryan Winslow took to the field for yet another kick, and the third quarter ended with NC State in the lead 21-14.
The final quarter started with the Wolfpack quickly approaching the end zone, and with 11:66 remaining in the game, scored their fourth touchdown of the game. With a successful extra point, NC State led 28-14.
The Panthers took over at their 23, where Pickett completed a 23-yard pass to Weah. Though they made it to NC State’s 26-yard line, Narduzzi opted for a field goal. Kessman’s 43-yard kick was good, decreasing Pitt’s deficit to 28-17.
NC State took the ball, but didn’t have it for long as incomplete passes and loss of yards resulted in a punt. On the next drive, Pickett threw a series of incomplete passes, leaving the Panthers with fourth-and-10.
The next Panther play resulted in a fumble and the Wolfpack capitalized on this drive, using only six drives to score another touchdown and improve to a 35-17 lead.
With the game out of reach, Narduzzi put DiNucci back into the game for Pitt’s final drive. DiNucci fumbled, with NC State recovering and kneeling to run out the clock.
“We knew they were a good team, we just have to continue to practice hard and make plays in the game,” Hall said. “But we definitely can compete with those guys, we just need to play harder.”
The Panthers will travel to North Carolina to take on the Duke Blue Devils Saturday, Oct. 21, with kickoff set for 12:20 p.m. They are still seeking their first ACC win.