Larry Fedora voodoo magic did not show up at Heinz Field on Thursday night. UNC football limped through three quarters of football before trying to put together another fourth quarter comeback. Comeback, they did, but only enough to tie the game. Overtime proved to be unkind.
Pittsburgh jumped on the board early with a field goal and, truthfully, some Pat Narduzzi #gameplay kept things from getting uglier sooner. The Tar Heels went to the locker room at halftime trailing 17-10. Things didn’t get better as Carolina was blanked in the third quarter while the Panthers added another touchdown. It was the fourth quarter where hope rose from the dead for UNC.
Carolina scored 17 points in the fourth quarter to make a game of it and send the game to overtime. Sam Howell has proven to be clutch in those situations much more often than not this season, and he did what he could to put the Heels in a position to go for a win.
Unfortunately, as has been the case the last couple games, the injury-depleted defense just could not make the stops necessary when they needed to. This was exemplified best when UNC had Pitt backed up and facing having to kick a long field goal on their first possession of overtime. Carolina failed to hold them on third down and Pitt eventually got a touchdown. The offense picked up a first down in overtime on a fourth down conversion, but couldn’t get anything in the end zone. That was that.
Dazz Newsome had a spectacular performance, racking up 170 yards and a touchdown on the day. Howell threw for 322 yards and three touchdowns with one interception, but it certainly looked less glowing for the freshman quarterback prior to the fourth quarter comeback.
A mobile quarterback gave the Heels fits once again, just like in Carolina’s loss to Virginia Tech. Kenny Pickett threw for his second-highest yardage this season with 359 yards. He also scrambled for 53 yards and two touchdowns, which were his first two scores on the ground this season. I’m not necessarily saying Pickett isn’t a good quarterback, but his stats do not suggest he is as good of a quarterback as Carolina’s defense made him look tonight.
The Tar Heels will need to win both of their final games against Mercer and NC State in order to reach bowl eligibility this season. While it is crystal clear that the program is heading in the right direction, the close calls all season have been maddening. Still, it’s easy to see how those things might be cleaned up in the future in order to lead to better outcomes. It doesn’t make the bitter pill easier to swallow right now, but there is reason to be hopeful for the future. That’s more than we felt this time last year.