- Associated Press - Friday, October 30, 2015

PITTSBURGH (AP) - In many ways, Pittsburgh played to its strength, grinding out slow drives and keeping the best offense in the Atlantic Coast Conference off the field.

Failing to finish did in the Panthers and left them on the short end in the key Coastal Division game.

Marquise Williams threw two long touchdown passes and North Carolina beat No. 23 Pittsburgh 26-19 on Thursday night.

Pitt started the game with a drive that lasted 8:19, but had to settle for Chris Blewitt’s 44-yard field goal. It was the Panthers’ only points of the first half. They trailed 20-3 at the start of the second when a blocked punt put them in business at the North Carolina 15. Again, the Panthers had to settle for 3.

Pitt held the ball for more than 35 minutes total.

“One of our keys to victory was that you can’t kick field goals in the red zone,” first-year Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said. “Give North Carolina credit for what they did. Obviously, with us kicking so many field goals, it’s tough to win a game just kicking field goals.

The unexpected ACC Coastal showdown was the first of a three-week round-robin that will likely determine the division title. The Tar Heels (7-1, 4-0) face No. 22 Duke next at home with a chance to put a vice grip on the program’s first trip to the ACC title game.

North Carolina has won seven straight since a sloppy opening loss to South Carolina and is off to its best start since 1997 under Mack Brown.

“We felt like if we could get the leadership that we needed, if we could get the chemistry that we had the talent, we had the ability, we had the coaches, we got everything we need to put it together,” said receiver Ryan Switzer, who five catches for 126 yards and a 71-yard touchdown.

For the third straight season, Williams came up huge against Pitt (6-2, 3-1). The senior was 14 for 23 for 270 yards and ran for 52. He has 1,020 total yards in three career victories against the Panthers.

Pitt had its four-game winning streak snapped after moving into the rankings for the first time since 2010. The Panthers had won four one-score games with a low-risk offense and pressure defense, but they looked outclassed by the best offense in the ACC in the first half.

“I told the players we have to play a great 60 minutes,” Narduzzi said. “I thought we started slow.”

Pitt got a blocked punt by Quintin Wirigins on North Carolina’s first second-half possession that could have swung momentum to the Panthers if they could have turned it into a touchdown.

“We knew had had to get touchdowns in the red zone and with the special teams putting us in a great position we’ve got to come up with seven,” quarterback Nate Peterman said.

Qadree Ollison capped a 75-yard drive by pushing into the end zone from 4 yards out to cut it to 23-13 with 4:10 left in the third quarter.

Peterman threw for 262 yards for Pittsburgh, including a 6-yard touchdown pass to Scott Orndoff with 46 seconds left to make it 26-19. Blewitt missed the extra point.

Williams and Switzer have been all kinds of problems for Pittsburgh since the Panthers joined the ACC three years ago. Two years ago at Heinz Field, Switzer, the West Virginia native, returned two punts for touchdowns in a 34-27 victory for the Tar Heels.

Williams last two games against Pitt: 301 yards rushing, 449 yards passing, six total touchdowns.

So fittingly the two combined on the first touchdown of the night. Williams stayed on his feet after getting nearly yanked to the ground by his facemask and unloaded on deep pass to Switzer, who caught it in stride for a 71-yard touchdown pass that made it 10-3 early in the second quarter.

Williams connected with Mack Hollins on a 32-yard TD pass after a Pitt turnover deep in its own territory to make it 20-3 with 3:19 left in the second quarter.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP

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AP College Football: www.collegefootball.ap.org

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