CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — Drake Maye threw for five touchdowns and Antoine Green had a career night with 180 yards receiving as No. 21 North Carolina overcame a 10-point deficit in the second half to defeat Pittsburgh 42-24 on Saturday.
UNC (7-1, 4-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) is 4-0 in league play for the first time since going 8-0 in 2015. Green, a fifth-year senior, hauled in a pair of touchdowns and set career highs in yards receiving and receptions (10).
The loss was Pitt’s second straight, and the Panthers (4-4, 1-3 ACC) are 1-3 in their last four games after starting 3-1.
UNC went down 24-14 early in the third quarter on the third touchdown of the night by Pitt running back Israel Abanikanda before scoring 28 unanswered points.
“I think that’s the toughest game that we’ve had, the most physical game that we’ve won since we’ve been here in 3 1/2 years,” Tar Heels coach Mack Brown said.
North Carolina took its first lead on a 2-yard run by Elijah Green less than a minute into the fourth. On the ensuing Pitt drive, Abanikanda lost a fumble at midfield and the Tar Heels capitalized with a 25-yard touchdown reception by Josh Downs a few plays later to take a two-score lead they didn’t relinquish.
Pitt wideout Jared Wayne had a career-best 161 yards receiving as the Panthers relied on big pass plays to power their strong start. But after going up by 10 on its first drive of the second half, Pitt gained only 60 yards on its final four possessions.
“The fourth quarter wasn’t good enough,” coach Pat Narduzzi said. “We turned the ball over again in the fourth quarter, which started the tumble. It seems like every week we’ve got one of those.”
Pitt: The Panthers’ game plan looked like a winning formula for the first half and early on in the third quarter before falling apart. Pitt quarterback Kedon Slovis nearly matched his total from last week’s loss at Louisville in the first half alone with 157 yards passing. But those big plays were nowhere to be found for much of the second half. On the other side of the ball, Pitt’s defense wore down against Maye and the Tar Heels.
North Carolina: Maye (34 completions for 388 yards) was efficient again, and the wideout duo of Greene and Downs showed that opposing teams have to account for multiple weapons in UNC’s passing game.
While Green enjoyed a career night, Downs also caught a pair of touchdown passes and finished with 102 yards receiving, his third 100-yard outing of the year.
“Just down in the locker room we were talking about it,” Green said. “He was like, ‘You’re helping me out,’ and I was like, ‘We brothers.’ You know what it is.”
Having entered the AP Top 25 on Oct. 16, the Tar Heels could potentially be the second highest-ranked ACC team when the new poll comes out on Sunday following No. 10 Wake Forest’s 27-point loss to Louisville and No. 16 Syracuse’s 17-point loss to Notre Dame.
Midway through their conference slate, the Tar Heels have created some separation atop the Coastal Division. UNC has a two-game lead over Duke and Miami, both teams the Tar Heels hold head-to-head tiebreakers over.
ON A ROLL
Abanikanda entered Saturday tied for the national lead in rushing touchdowns and once again impressed with three scores and 127 yards on 26 carries.
The junior running back’s performance marked the third time he’s scored three touchdowns or more and the sixth time he’s rushed for 100-plus yards.
Pitt: The Panthers return home next Saturday to host No. 16 Syracuse.
UNC: The Tar Heels begin a two-game road swing Saturday at Virginia.