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Pitt rallies but still comes up on losing end against UNC

Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - Pitt quarterback Tom Savage is sacked by North Carolina's Terry Shankle in the second quarter Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Pitt quarterback Tom Savage is sacked by North Carolina's Terry Shankle in the second quarter Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - Pitt quarterback Tom Savage slams the ball after being sacked by North Carolina's Kareem Martin in the second quarter Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>Pitt quarterback Tom Savage slams the ball after being sacked by North Carolina's Kareem Martin in the second quarter Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - Pitt quarterback Tom Savage is sacked by North Carolina's Terry Shankle in the second quarter Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>Pitt quarterback Tom Savage is sacked by North Carolina's Terry Shankle in the second quarter Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - Pitt's Lafayette Pitts breaks up a first-quarter pass intended for North Carolina's Bug Howard on Saturday Nov. 16, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>Pitt's Lafayette Pitts breaks up a first-quarter pass intended for North Carolina's Bug Howard on Saturday Nov. 16, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - Pitt's Ray Vinopal makes a first-quarter tackle on North Carolina's Khris Francis on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>Pitt's Ray Vinopal makes a first-quarter tackle on North Carolina's Khris Francis on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - Pitt quarterback Tom Savage is sacked by North Carolina's Terry Shankle in the first half Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>Pitt quarterback Tom Savage is sacked by North Carolina's Terry Shankle in the first half Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - Pitt tight end Manasseh Garner gain yards after a first-quarter catch againt North Carolina on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>Pitt tight end Manasseh Garner gain yards after a first-quarter catch againt North Carolina on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - North Carolina's Travis Hughes recovers a first-quarter Tom Savage fumble Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>North Carolina's Travis Hughes recovers a first-quarter Tom Savage fumble Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - Pitt's Aaron Donald pressures North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams in the first quarter Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>Pitt's Aaron Donald pressures North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams in the first quarter Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - Pitt quarterback Tom Savage is sacked by North Carolina's Kareem Martin in the first quarter Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>Pitt quarterback Tom Savage is sacked by North Carolina's Kareem Martin in the first quarter Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - Pitt receiver Tyler Boyd makes a first-quarter diving catch past North Carolina's Tim Scott on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>Pitt receiver Tyler Boyd makes a first-quarter diving catch past  North Carolina's Tim Scott on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - Pitt's K'Waun Williams breaks up a pass intended for North Carolina's Quinshad Davis in the second quarter Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>Pitt's K'Waun Williams breaks up a pass intended for North Carolina's Quinshad Davis in the second quarter Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - Pitt running back James Conner scores a fourth quarter touchdown against North Carolina on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>Pitt running back James Conner scores a fourth quarter touchdown against North Carolina on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams takes off on a third-quarter run against Pitt on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams takes off on a third-quarter run against Pitt on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - Pitt running back James Conner runs through the third-quarter tackle attempt by North Carolina's Brian Walker on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>Pitt running back James Conner runs through the third-quarter tackle attempt by North Carolina's Brian Walker on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - Pitt tight end Manasseh Garner cuts back on North Carolina's Jabari Price in the fourth quarter Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>Pitt tight end Manasseh Garner cuts back on North Carolina's Jabari Price in the fourth quarter Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - Pitt safety Ray Vinapol rips the ball away from North Carolina's Romar Morris in the fourth quarter Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>Pitt safety Ray Vinapol rips the ball away from North Carolina's Romar Morris in the fourth quarter Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - Pitt safety Ray Vinapol celebrates his fourth-quarter fumble recovery againt North Carolina on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>Pitt safety Ray Vinapol celebrates his fourth-quarter fumble recovery againt North Carolina on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - Pitt receiver Tyler Boyd stiff-arms North Carolina's Jabari Price in the fourth quarter Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>Pitt receiver Tyler Boyd stiff-arms North Carolina's Jabari Price in the fourth quarter Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - Pitt coach Paul Chryst talks with officals during the second half against North Carolina on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>Pitt coach Paul Chryst talks with officals during the second half against North Carolina on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - Pitt's Jason Hendricks (25) and Malcolm Crockett scramble to recover a fumble on a kickoff return by North Carolina's T.J. Logan in the fourth quarter Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>Pitt's Jason Hendricks (25) and Malcolm Crockett scramble to recover a fumble on a kickoff return by North Carolina's T.J. Logan in the fourth quarter Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - Pitt's Bryan Murphy dives in vain as North Carolina's Ryan Switzer returns a fourth-quarter punt for a touchdown Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>Pitt's Bryan Murphy dives in vain as North Carolina's Ryan Switzer returns a fourth-quarter punt for a touchdown Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at Heinz Field.

ACC Videos

Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, 4:09 p.m.
 

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.

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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