Pitt rallies but still comes up on losing end against UNC
Not long after the final verdict, Pitt safety Jason Hendricks sat down and carefully considered his team's 34-27 loss Saturday to North Carolina.
No one knew better than Hendricks, a fifth-year senior, that this spirit-sapping outcome has become painfully familiar to all who have followed Pitt's misfortunes in recent years.
His message wasn't a good one.
“We didn't bring that emotion to the field,” Hendricks said of how Pitt allowed itself to fall behind, 27-3, in the third quarter, seven days after beating Notre Dame. “We just came out flat.”
Where did such an attitude take root?
“I honestly don't know,” he said.
Pitt (5-5, 2-4) entered this final, three-game stretch of its first ACC season with plenty at stake: A lucrative bowl bid, momentum for next season, national respect. None of that has surrounded this program for the past several years.
But all hope disappeared in a series of bad plays that started with a red-zone fumble by quarterback Tom Savage in the first quarter, extended into another shoddy performance by an offensive line that allowed seven sacks and leaked onto special teams.
Pitt must win at Syracuse on Saturday or defeat Miami at home Nov. 29 to become bowl eligible.
The decisive, tiebreaking play Saturday was a 61-yard punt return by North Carolina's Ryan Switzer with 4:46 left. It was his second of the day in front of a mostly heartbroken crowd of 50,049 at Heinz Field.
Pitt's dramatic rally included 24 unanswered points in less than one quarter and led to a 27-27 tie with 8:52 left. It was fueled by Savage and wide receiver Devin Street, who suffered knee and ankle injuries that briefly forced them from the game but couldn't keep them on the sideline.
Not even their inspiration was enough.
Savage threw touchdown passes of 33 and 8 yards to Street and running back Isaac Bennett, Hendricks and free safety Ray Vinopal recovered fumbles that led to 10 points and the defense finally found a way to stop North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams.
In the first half, Williams ran nine times for 60 yards and two touchdowns, once running into the end zone while easily avoiding cornerback Lafayette Pitts' attempt at a tackle.
“The guys responded and gave each other different lifts,” said coach Paul Chryst, who took no credit for a halftime pep talk. “We just didn't do enough over the course of the game.”
The first-half hole into which Pitt fell was too deep.
It included two Savage fumbles — he also lost one in the third quarter that led to a North Carolina field goal — and an inability to gain 1 yard on fourth down from the Tar Heels' 26 with 1:10 left.
Freshman James Conner, who ended up with 102 yards on 19 carries, lost a yard on the game's most important snap.
It happened while Pitt was trying to rally again following Switzer's second punt return. The Panthers' offensive line — missing injured starters Adam Bisnowaty and Cory King — couldn't stop penetration from a North Carolina defense that was last in the ACC at stopping the run.
Chryst has been around for less than two seasons, but even he seems weary of it all.
“We have to make a pledge to truly look at ourselves, what we can do better,” he said. “It's how we respond to this. We have to own this one.”
Note: The ACC announced that Pitt's game against Miami on Nov. 29 at Heinz Field will be at 3:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on ABC.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Car wash explosion, fire injures 2 in McDonald
- Starkey: Chryst a miserable failure at Pitt
- Police investigate alleged institutional sexual assault at Pine youth treatment center
- Ex-Penguins defenseman Niskanen still miffed by coaches’ firings
- Warning about cop-killer came moments too late
- Energy sector adjusts to global oil plummet
- Banged-up Steelers can clinch with win over Chiefs
- Pitt football fights to overcome steppingstone status
- Kids treated to gifts, peaceful holiday party at Lincoln-Lemington church
- Jeannette company’s miniature steam engines coveted for decades
- Pitt players support Rudolph for job