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The Pitt News

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Chris Matthews poses for a photo at the Global Hub in Posvar Hall.
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Drake Maye and North Carolina torch Pitt football 41-24

Junior+tight+end+Gavin+Bartholomew+%2886%29+celebrates+after+a+play+during+Saturday+nights+game+against+UNC+at+Acrisure+Stadium.
Hannah Levine | Staff Photographer
Junior tight end Gavin Bartholomew (86) celebrates after a play during Saturday night’s game against UNC at Acrisure Stadium.

Pitt football’s early season woes continue.

The Panthers (1-3, ACC 0-1) fell to No. 17 North Carolina (4-0, ACC 1-0) 41-24 on Saturday night at Acrisure Stadium. The Tar Heels proved they were the better team, outplaying the Panthers on both sides of the ball. 

North Carolina redshirt sophomore quarterback Drake Maye tore up the Panthers’ defense. Maye — one of the top prospects for the 2024 NFL Draft — threw for 296 yards and a touchdown, while also picking up two rushing touchdowns.

“Drake Maye is a football player,” Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi said. “Regardless of what coverage we put at him, the guy seemed to make a lot of plays.”

Meanwhile, Pitt’s quarterbacks faltered. Redshirt senior Phil Jurkovec played well throughout the early part of the game, completing 11 out of 15 passes for 109 yards. But an apparent head injury sidelined the redshirt senior right before halftime. 

“I wish he would have gotten four quarters,” Narduzzi said about Jurkovec. “He didn’t turn it over at all in the first half. [He] made good decisions.”

Jurkovec’s replacement — redshirt sophomore Christain Veilleux — struggled in the second half. The redshirt sophomore threw two picks while only completing eight total passes.

Following the disastrous loss to West Virginia last week, fans booed Jurkovec as he took the field for Pitt’s first drive. But Jurkovec wasn’t phased, as he orchestrated a solid drive to start the game. 

The Panthers drove downfield, utilizing short passes and rushes to move the ball into the red zone. Junior running back Rodney Hammond finished the drive, rushing seven yards to score Pitt’s first touchdown in two weeks. Hammond’s efforts put the Panthers up 7-0 early in the first quarter. 

But North Carolina quickly found an answer to Pitt’s early successes. The Tar Heels’ drive nearly stalled out in its first few plays, but two penalties on Pitt and a few miscues kept North Carolina’s hopes alive. 

The Tar Heels drove down the field and evened the score as North Carolina sophomore running back Omarion Hampton battled through Pitt defenders for a three-yard touchdown. Hampton’s efforts tied the game at 7-7 near the end of the first quarter. 

Pitt struck back less than four minutes later. Thanks to a 30-yard catch from junior tight end Gavin Bartholomew, the Panthers were in striking distance right at the end of the first quarter. Redshirt senior Daniel Carter finished the drive with a one-yard touchdown to put Pitt up 14-7. 

Redshirt senior offensive lineman Blake Zubovic said that Pitt’s early offensive successes came from its rushing game plan. 

“We wanted to establish the run,” Zubovic said. “I think we did that at the beginning really well. We were really imposing our will on them early.”

Again, the Tar Heels rebounded quickly following the Panthers’ touchdown, driving all the way down to the one-yard line. Pitt nearly halted North Carolina’s scoring chances, but Maye punched it in on fourth down to tie the game 14-14. 

The Panthers failed to retake the lead on its next drive, as they ultimately lined up to punt after a three-and-out. The Tar Heels then took full advantage of Pitt’s failures. North Carolina junior punt returner Alijah Huzzie fielded the punt with room to work. The junior punt returner found a hole in the defense and took off, running all the way for a 52-yard touchdown. Huzzie’s punt return put the Tar Heels up 21-14 with just over six minutes left in the first half. 

Following the game-changing special team’s play, the Panthers needed to find an answer before the end of the half. With the momentum slowly shifting, Bartholomew once again stepped for the Panthers. On first and ten, the junior tight end hung onto a pass for 29 yards despite a fearsome hit from a Tar Heels defender. 

The drive stalled out, but Bartholomew’s efforts put the Panthers in field goal range. Pitt redshirt junior kicker Ben Sauls connected on the 44-yard field goal to cut into the Tar Heels’ 21-17 lead. 

But Pitt’s offensive efforts were in vain, as the Panthers’ defense could not contain the red-hot North Carolina offense. Starting the drive on the nine-yard line, Tar Heels once again drove downfield with ease. Maye then connected with Tar Heels sophomore wide receiver Kobe Paysour for a seven-yard touchdown, giving North Carolina a 28-17 with a minute remaining in the second quarter.

Right at the end of the first half, Jurkovec exited the game with an apparent head injury following a late hit from a North Carolina defender. Jurkovec would not return for the rest of the game. Veilleux entered the game to replace the injured Jurkovec. 

Veilleux connected with redshirt sophomore wide receiver Daejon Reynolds for a 15-yard gain. The pass put the Panthers in field goal range, but Sauls’ kick fell just short.

Following the kick, the Panthers marched into the locker room down 28-17. 

Coming out of the locker room, it became clear that Pitt’s halftime defensive adjustments were not working. The Tar Heels shredded the Panthers’ defense for the fifth time tonight, driving all the way down to the one-yard line. Maye punched it in, giving North Carolina a 35-17 lead early in the second half. 

The Tar Heels continued to pile on points on their next drive. Following a 55-yard drive, the Tar Heels hit a 43-yard field goal to go up 38-17. 

But the Panthers found a glimmer of hope on the next play of the game, as first-year wide receiver Kenny Johnson returned the kickoff for a 100-yard touchdown. Johnson’s efforts sliced the Tar Heels lead to 14. 

North Carolina responded to the kickoff return with another strong drive. The drive ultimately stalled out, but the Tar Heels capitalized on another field goal to go up 41-24. 

The Tar Heels cruised through the fourth quarter, walking away with the 41-24 victory.

Despite the tough loss, Narduzzi remained optimistic in the post-game press conference. 

“We will be back,” Narduzzi said. “There’s no quit in that locker room. They are upset. We’ll fix stuff and we’re going to come back.”

The Panthers will look to rebound next Saturday against Virginia Tech. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. and coverage will air on the ACC Network.

About the Contributor
Brian Sherry, Sports Editor