PITTSBURGH – Pitt found itself in a tight game that came down to the wire Saturday, falling to North Carolina State, 30-29 – the Panthers' first loss of the season.
After N.C. State’s offense had seemingly gone cold in the third quarter, Wolfpack quarterback Devin Leary led his team on back-to-back touchdown drives in the fourth quarter, the second one giving the Wolfpack the lead with just 23 seconds remaining in the game.
Pitt (3-1, 2-1) coach Pat Narduzzi said Leary’s play was the main factor for his defense allowing 30 points after giving up 30 points in the first three games combined.
“I think Devin Leary, No. 1 – the guy pulling the trigger obviously had a good game today, and he made the right decisions,” Narduzzi said after the game.
"He got the ball out pretty quick. We couldn't get as much pressure as we'd like."
Leary finished the day completing 28 of 44 passes for 336 yards and four touchdowns.
For the first time this season, Pitt’s defense looked mortal. The unit played its sloppiest game of the year, committing nine penalties in the first half alone.
Pitt forced eight three-and-outs a week ago against Louisville; this week, the unit was only able to force three.
“This week we couldn't get off the field at times,” Narduzzi said.
Quarterback Kenny Pickett led Pitt on two second-half drives that resulted in the senior scoring two touchdowns on quarterback sneaks. Pickett finished the day completing 22 of 39 passes for 411 yards and a passing touchdown. He added 40 rush yards and two rushing touchdowns.
The Wolfpack (2-1, 2-1) scored on each of their first three drives. The Wolfpack orchestrated back-to-back long touchdown drives on their first two possessions.
The Panthers started with a bang. After receiving the opening kickoff, Pickett hit freshman wide receiver Jordan Addison for a 75-yard touchdown on the second play from scrimmage. Pitt led 7-0 less than 30 seconds into the game.
Pitt’s defense had fits with N.C. State’s hard count, with the Wolfpack drawing Pitt offsides five times in the first half. The Panthers added three defensive pass interference penalties and a facemask penalty before halftime.
Defensive lineman Patrick Jones II called the number of defensive penalties “unacceptable.”
“We gave them the game with offsides penalties," Jones said. "We kept having penalties we should not have had.”
He said N.C. State’s hard counts and clapping at the line of scrimmage kept Pitt’s defense off-balance.
“They had to do hard counts, they had to do claps to get us off our game,” Jones said. “They did a good job with it. I give them credit for that.”
The Wolfpack got the ball to start the second half and Pitt’s defense quickly forced a three-and-out. Pitt’s offense then drove 78 yards in 11 plays, including back-to-back long receptions from D.J. Turner. Turner caught a 32-yard pass and followed it with 27-yard reception. On the second catch, Turner fell down just shy of the end zone giving Pitt first-and-goal at the one.
The Panthers lost two yards on the four ensuing plays and came away with no points after an 11-play, 78-yard drive, opting to go for the touchdown on fourth down instead of kicking a field goal, a mistake that would later prove costly. They continued to trail by four.
Pickett wasn’t going to go down without a fight.
The senior quarterback led the Panthers on a 10-play, 73-yard drive late in the third quarter. On the drive, Pickett connected twice with wide receiver Taysir Mack for completions of 21 and 13 yards. The second catch came on third-and-10, when Mack hung onto the football despite being flipped upside down.
The play kept the drive alive, and Pickett hit Turner for a 23-yard pass on the next play. It was initially called a touchdown on the field, but a review overturned it and found Turner was just short of the end zone. Pickett snuck the ball over the goal line on the ensuing play to give the Panthers a 20-17 lead, their first since the first quarter.
After Pickett scored his second rushing touchdown of the day, giving the Panthers a 29-24 lead with 1:44 remaining, Pitt’s defense couldn’t hold as Leary led an eight-play, 79-yard drive ending with an Emeka Emezie touchdown in the final minute of the game.