Pickett, No. 25 Pitt escapes Howell, UNC 30-23 in OT

PITTSBURGH (AP) – Kenny Pickett hit Lucas Krull for an 11-yard touchdown pass in overtime and No. 25 in Pittsburgh’s defense …

PITTSBURGH (AP) – Kenny Pickett hit Lucas Krull for an 11-yard touchdown pass in overtime, and No. 25 Pittsburgh’s defense cleared the rest as the Panthers held out North Carolina 30-23 in the rain Thursday night.

Pitt (8-2, 5-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) held tight control of first place in the ACC’s Coastal Division with two weeks left after blowing a 16-point lead before gathering himself in overtime behind Pickett.

Pickett completed 25 of 43 passes in 346 yards with three touchdowns and one interception on an evening in which he became the school’s career leader in passing yards. His arrow to Krull in the middle of a downpour gave the Panthers the lead during the initial possession of the first overtime.

North Carolina (5-5, 3-4) tried to respond but got nowhere on four games, the last a fourth-down desperation lift by quarterback Sam Howell who was picked out by MJ Devonshire. Howell passed 296 yards with two touchdowns.

Pitt could earn his second Coastal Division title and go to the ACC title game in five years if he wins. The Panthers could also win with a win over Virginia on Nov. 20 and any conference loss to Miami.

Tar Heels sought to beat a ranked opponent for the second time in five days. Yet the magic they evoked while beating a then undefeated Wake Forest on Saturday disappeared in overtime.

The expected shootout between two teams with NFL-ready quarterbacks averaging 80 points in a game never materialized. Pitt and North Carolina struggled to reach half the total when Howell and Pickett spent a significant portion of the night under heavy coercion.

The Panthers drove to a 17-point lead before Tar Heels had a first attempt. Each of North Carolina’s first three drives ended in sacks, and Tar Heels allowed five in the first half as Pitt went up 23-7 after Pickett.

The super-senior threw after a couple of touchdowns and became the Panthers’ career leader in yards passing when he broke Alex Van Pelt’s mark of 11,267 with a 44-yard lift in the first quarter.

Still, Pitt also missed chances of blowing it open. Sam Scarton missed an extra point, got a 54-yard field goal for short in the difficult wind at Heinz Field, and another field-goal attempt was blocked.

Tar Heels eventually got the Panthers to pay. Howell found Antoine Green with a 23-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter to make it 23-13. Howell rumbled his way over from 1-yard out on the fourth try with 5:34 left to pull North Carolina within three. Pickett’s fourth interception of the season on Pitt’s subsequent possession created Grayson Atkins’ equalizing 21-yard field goal with 57 seconds left to force overtime.

TAKEAWAYEN

North Carolina: When Tar Heels can protect Howell and get stops in defense, they are dangerous. When they do not, they are a mess.

Pitt: The Panthers’ hopes for the program’s first season with 10 wins since 2009 remain largely alive, thanks in part to a defense that has been hot and cold all season. Pitt found a way to make things difficult enough for Howell to build a lead, and Pickett’s balance in overtime helped the Panthers avoid the kind of “Pitt being Pitt” loss that has become a sort of trademark in most of the last four decades.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Panthers will remain in the polls, though they will likely need some teams over them to falter over the weekend to take a big leap.

NEXT

North Carolina: Get some sort of respite when FCS opponent Wofford visits Chapel Hill on November 20th.

Pitt: Pickett will make his final appearance at Heinz Field – at least as a college student – when the Cavaliers visit. Pitt has won four of his last five meetings with Virginia.

___

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