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No. 17 UNC football opens up ACC play with 41-24 road win at Pittsburgh

Junior defensive back Alijah Huzzie (28) passes by the Pitt defensive line on Saturday, September 23, 2023 at Acrisure Stadium, Pittsburgh, PA. UNC won 41-24.

PITTSBURGH — The No. 17 North Carolina football team (4-0, 1-0 ACC) defeated Pittsburgh (1-3, 0-1 ACC), 41-24, to open up conference play at Acrisure Stadium on Saturday evening. UNC is now 4-0 for the first time since 1997.

In the first 12 minutes, the Panthers and Tar Heels traded rushing touchdowns from running backs Rodney Hammond Jr. and Omarion Hampton, respectively. North Carolina’s defense gave up back-to-back big plays to Pitt, with Hammond breaking free for a 23-yard run and quarterback Phil Jurkovec airing a pass to tight end Gavin Bartholomew for 30 yards. Running back Daniel Carter put the Panthers up, 14-7, with a 1-yard rushing touchdown.

“[Pitt] had a lot of energy,” UNC head coach Mack Brown said. “They were excited. We couldn’t let them get excited, and we did.”

Pitt and UNC traded three-and-outs, and then UNC sophomore quarterback Drake Maye found junior tight end John Copenhaver on a flea flicker for 40 yards. On a fourth-and-goal, Maye ran in a keeper to tie the game at 14-14.

The Tar Heels forced another three-and-out, including a 21-yard sack from senior linebacker Kaimon Rucker. Then, junior defensive back Alijah Huzzie scored a 52-yard punt return touchdown. 

Jurkovec found wide receiver Konata Mumpfield and Bartholomew for 50 combined yards on the next drive, and kicker Ben Sauls nailed a 44-yard field goal to trim UNC’s lead to 21-17.

Maye connected with junior wideout Nate McCollum for a 29-yard completion. Then, under pressure, Maye tossed a left-handed 7-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open sophomore receiver Kobe Paysour. The quarterback attributed his ability to make such a throw to his athletic versatility growing up.

“I advise all young kids out there, don’t stick to one sport,” Maye said. “Just play them all and see which one you find out is the best.”

Maye opened up the second half with a 52-yard bomb to junior receiver J.J. Jones, then extended UNC’s lead with a 1-yard sneak. UNC forced a three-and-out on the next Pitt drive and then kicked a 43-yard field goal off the foot of junior kicker Noah Burnette. Pitt quickly cut UNC’s lead to 38-24 with a 100-yard kick return touchdown from wide receiver Kenny Johnson, and Burnette responded with a career-long 48-yard field goal.

Despite the ensuing chaos — in which Pitt blocked a punt and UNC senior linebacker Cedric Gray recovered a fumble on the very next play — the Tar Heels never looked back.

Maye finished the game going 22-30 for 296 passing yards, one passing touchdown and two rushing touchdowns. Jones, Maye’s favorite target on Saturday, caught six passes for 117 yards. Huzzie shined for UNC’s defense and special teams, snagging two interceptions and notching a punt return touchdown.

After the game, Maye noted that he'd make time to treat Huzzie to dinner during the bye week.

"I know he'll probably make me decide," Huzzie told reporters when asked where he would want to go. "Is there a Texas Roadhouse in Chapel Hill?"

The Tar Heels will return home in two weeks to face Syracuse (4-0) at Kenan Stadium on Oct. 7.


@dthsports |

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Daniel Wei

Daniel Wei is a 2023-24 assistant sports editor at The Daily Tar Heel. He has previously served as a senior writer. Daniel is a junior pursuing a double major in business administration and economics.