Halftime recap: Pitt versus UNC


Thomas Yang | Assistant Visual Editor

Senior running back Darrin Hall (22), pictured here against Georgia Tech, led Pitt with 84 rushing yards in their loss to North Carolina.

By Trent Leonard, Sports Editor

In a game involving almost no defense, the Panthers find themselves ahead at halftime, 28-21. A victory over UNC would be Pitt’s first since moving to the ACC, with the team having lost all five previous meetings.

After both offenses exchanged quick strike after quick strike, Pitt took its first lead of the contest with 35 seconds left in the half. The Panther offense has already accumulated 297 total yards, while the Tar Heels have racked up 244 of their own.

Pitt did not begin the game like a team hungry to break a five-game losing streak. The Panthers looked stagnant, punting on their first offensive possession then allowing a seven-play, 70-yard Tar Heel touchdown drive. Junior running back Antonio Williams provided the finishing punch by taking a handoff 37 yards up the middle to put North Carolina up 7-0 early.

Pitt’s offense rebounded on the next drive, with sophomore quarterback Kenny Pickett leading the charge. Pickett picked up two crucial fourth-down conversions with his legs, one on a nine-yard rush and another on a quarterback sneak. He fittingly capped the drive off with a seven-yard rushing touchdown, diving into the left pylon just before the UNC defense could reach him. That score tied the game at seven with 2:31 left in the first quarter.

The back-and-forth affair continued when UNC got the ball back, as they once again drove it down the throat of Pitt’s defense without much interruption. The Tar Heel offense drove the full 75 yards downfield for another score — on another touchdown from Williams, this time a one-yard rush — to gain back a 14-7 lead.

Pitt’s defense finally caught a break when junior defensive back Dane Jackson forced a fumble on junior wideout Anthony Ratliff-Williams. The Panther offense took advantage of the miscue, retaliating with an eight-play, 64-yard march capped off with a two-yard score from Ollison. Junior receiver Maurice Ffrench was pivotal on the drive, accumulating 34 yards on three touches.

The Pitt defense continued to resemble a sieve, Swiss cheese, or whatever porous metaphor you might prefer on the next drive, routinely missing tackles and allowing UNC to pick up big chunks of yardage. It took the Tar Heels just six plays to go 75 yards, and junior quarterback Nathan Elliott found sophomore running back Michael Carter all alone in the middle of the field for a 31-yard touchdown pass to complete the drive.

Not to be outdone, the Panthers drove 85 yards in six plays on their next offensive possession. Most of those yards came from senior running back Darrin Hall, who outran the entire defense on a 65-yard touchdown run to tie the score back up at 21 apiece with 3:07 still remaining in the first half.

The Pitt defense finally came up with a stop, giving its offense a chance to take the lead with 1:35 left in the half.

They did just that, quickly driving down within the UNC 10-yard line thanks to a monster 42-yard completion from Pickett to sophomore receiver Taysir Mack. Two plays later, Pickett dished a one-yard shovel pass to senior fullback George Aston for the go-ahead touchdown.

At the half, Pickett’s completed 14 of 21 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown, while Ollison and Hall have combined for 127 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

The Panthers will look to step up their defensive performance in the second half — they’ll have to, if they want to give Narduzzi his first win over the Tar Heels.