It has been a long, painful road for the Tar Heels this season. No one needs to be reminded of the fact that Carolina had only been able to defeat Old Dominion this season despite a few flashes of potential. The injuries and inexperience had just been too much to overcome. Until tonight.
UNC went on the road to Heinz Field in Pittsburgh for a prime time date with Pitt and earned a hard-fought victory. Their third string quarterback, Nathan Elliott, looked pretty good in his first start. Anthony Ratliff-Williams looked great. All of it combined for the Heels to bring home their first conference win of the season.
Ratliff-Williams put the Heels on the board early when he returned the opening kickoff 98 yards all the way to the house. Nathan Elliott tossed a touchdown pass to Brandon Fritts with 6:32 left in the first quarter to bring UNC’s lead to 14-3. It was a sign that the offense was alive and kicking.
After Pitt racked up two unanswered touchdowns to start the second quarter, Carolina rallied right back with a touchdown throw from Ratliff-Williams (who became just the second NCAA player to return a kick for a touchdown and throw for a touchdown in the same game this season) and a field goal by Freeman Jones to make it 24-17 Heels at the half.
The second half of the game was a back-and-forth affair between the two teams as Pitt got a touchdown on the ground in the third before Jones connected on another kick for Carolina. The Panthers jumped ahead with a touchdown in the fourth quarter before UNC went ahead for good when Elliott found Ratliff-Williams with just over six minutes remaining. UNC was able to pick up the first downs necessary to waste the clock at the end of the game and hold on for the victory.
Elliott threw for 235 yards, two touchdowns, and zero (yes, zero) interceptions. Ratliff-Williams threw for his own touchdown, caught another, and picked up 75 yards through the air. Jordon Brown was also highly effective on the ground, even without making it into the end zone.
Carolina was able to overcome Darrin Hall rushing for 121 yards and four scores for Pitt. That kind of day could have easily broken them on a day when the offense sputtered, but they were able to pull their weight in order to pick up the win tonight.
The Heels return to Kenan Stadium for a game against Western Carolina next Saturday on Senior Day. Sounds like a pretty good chance to make it two in a row!