CHAPEL HILL — Mitch Trubisky capped a huge day by throwing a 2-yard touchdown pass to Bug Howard with 2 seconds left to help North Carolina rally past Pittsburgh 37-36 on Saturday.
Trubisky threw for career highs of 453 yards and five touchdowns for the Tar Heels (3-1, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), who never led until the final play and trailed by 13 midway through the fourth quarter.
But Trubisky coolly directed a 17-play, 63-yard drive that included three fourth-down conversions in a stunning finish that had UNC’s players running onto the field to celebrate when stopping Pitt’s last-play kick return.
“We had talked about before the game that we had an opportunity to establish the identity of this football team,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said. “And I can say there’s a lot of grit in this football team for one, a lot of toughness — all the intangibles that we need to be successful.”
Ryan Switzer was the main target, tying a program record with 16 catches for 208 yards and a score in a matchup of the teams that finished 1-2 atop the ACC’s Coastal Division last season.
Quadree Henderson ran for 107 yards to for the Panthers (2-2, 0-1), who ran for 281 yards but went three-and-out on their last two drives to give UNC its opening.
“When something like that (comeback) happens, you have to look at yourself first: Did I do everything I needed to do to get us a victory?” Pitt defensive end Ejuan Price said. “I think that answer is no.”
PITTSBURGH: As good as Pitt’s rushing game is, the Panthers’ upside will be limited if they don’t solve their pass defense issues. Going back to last week’s loss at Oklahoma State, Pitt has surrendered 993 yards through the air in two games and couldn’t get a stop when the game hung in the balance late.
NORTH CAROLINA: Maybe the Tar Heels have a little more toughness than it appeared as the Panthers kept running through them for much of the day. The defense came up with needed stops in the final quarter after struggling through the first 45 minutes, while Trubisky has settled into a mistake-free groove in his first month as a starter.
PITTSBURGH: The Panthers step back out of ACC play to play Marshall, hosting the Thundering Herd for the first meeting between the schools.
NORTH CAROLINA: The rotating schedule of cross-division league games did the Tar Heels no favors. They travel to No. 13 Florida State for their first trip to Tallahassee since winning there in 2010.