Football: Pitt controls early, but Wolfpack dominate late on way to 38-31 win

By Adam Littman

North Carolina State outscored the Pitt football team 14-0 in the fourth quarter, and scored 21… North Carolina State outscored the Pitt football team 14-0 in the fourth quarter, and scored 21 unanswered points stretching back to the third, to beat the Panthers 38-31 earlier today.

Pitt took a 31-17 lead with 5:08 left in the third quarter after quarterback Bill Stull hit receiver Jonathan Baldwin on a slant, and Baldwin juked away from a defender and outran everyone else for a 79-yard score. After that, the Panthers were completely shut down on offense.

On the four offensive drives following that score, the Panthers didn’t convert one first down. They had just 19 total yards during those drives, although it’s a bit less considering Pitt pushed itself back 14 yards with penalties during that span.

The Wolfpack’s three drives following the Baldwin score all went for touchdowns. On those three drives, NC State racked up a combined 199 yards.

Quarterback Russell Wilson dominated the Pitt defense, throwing the ball where ever he pleased and on the rare occasion nobody was open, he ran it. Wilson finished the game 21-35 for 322 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran 10 times for a team-high 91 yards.

Still, the Panthers had chances to beat the Wolfpack.

Pitt was leading 31-24 early in the fourth quarter, and North Carolina State had a 4th-and-14 from Pitt’s 28-yard line. Wilson dropped back to pass, didn’t see anything and took off, running untouched for 21 yards and a first down. The very next play Wilson connected with George Bryan for a 7-yard touchdown pass, and after a made extra point, the game was tied.

On North Carolina State’s next drive, the Wolfpack had a 3rd-and-6 from Pitt’s 12. Wilson once again looked to pass, this time hurling the ball into the end zone. He put a bit too much on it, though, and the pass went over the head of the Wolfpack receiver. As the ball flew overhead, Pitt cornerback Aaron Berry shoved the receiver from behind. The pass interference call gave North Carolina State 10 yards, a first down and the win. On the next play, running back Toney Baker scored the go-ahead touchdown from two yards out.

If there’s no penalty, that sets up a field goal from about 29 yards out. Earlier in the game, Wolfpack kicker Josh Czajkowski missed a 32-yard field goal and had a 37-yard field goal attempt blocked.

Still, Pitt had its chance to send the game to overtime.

Trailing 38-31 with about 2:45 left in the game, North Carolina faced a 3rd-and-4 from its own 29-yard line. With Wilson in shotgun formation, center Ted Larson tossed the snap well over Wilson’s head. As the ball bounced back towards the end zone, Pitt linebacker Max Gruder recovered the fumble at the 8-yard line.

Pitt opened the drive with a one-yard run by Dion Lewis and a pass to Dorrin Dickerson for a loss of one yard. On third down, Stull lofted a pass to the back of the end zone to Dickerson. Pitt’s leading receiver this year leapt, tapped the ball to himself and brought it into his chest, but before he landed a Wolfpack defender knocked the ball away setting up fourth down.

With the game on the line, Stull dropped back to pass and once again aimed to the back of the end zone, this time more towards the left corner than straight away. Unlike last time, though, nobody was there. No Pitt receiver was in the immediate vicinity of the throw, and even if they were the ball was thrown far too high for anyone to jump and grab. Or as Bob Uecker in “Major League” might have said, any receiver would “need a Visa to catch that one.”

While Pitt’s defense was expected to dominate this year, the Wolfpack are the second team to put up 500 or more total offensive yards against Pitt, joining Buffalo. The secondary is shaky at best, and Wilson picked them apart, connecting with eight different receivers on the day.

But even the front seven had its issues today, as NC State rushed for 208 yards whereas the Panthers had held opponents to just 80.7 yards per game before today. The defense had a season-low one sack on the game. One big reason for that is because senior middle linebacker Adam Gunn missed his second straight game with a left ankle injury. Gunn leads the team with five sacks. Freshman Dan Mason started in his place.

On a more positive note for Pitt, Stull played well once again, excluding late-game heroics of course. He finished the game 12-21 for 206 yards and two touchdowns. After a mediocre first half, Stull and the offense came out and played extremely well until there was a little more than five minutes left in the third quarter.

Lewis carried the Pitt offense in the first half, scoring Pitt’s first two touchdowns. He didn’t really have a big impact in the second half, but finished with 95 yards, two scores and one catch for six yards. Baldwin caught two passes and a team-high 98 yards.

With the loss, Pitt is now 3-1. The two other top teams in the Big East, Cincinnati and South Florida, both won today and improved to 4-0. South Florida, which lost quarterback Matt Grothe for the season, upset No. 18 Florida State. At 3-1, Pitt is tied for second in the conference with Connecticut.

Pitt has a short week, as it’s back on the road Friday night to take on Louisville, who is 1-1 and playing Utah tonight.