UNC’s 4th-down stop of Conner key

PITTSBURGH – Freshman running back James Conner ran for 102 yards and scored a touchdown on 19 carries in Pitt’s loss against North Carolina Saturday, but it was his 1-yard loss that he remembered the most after the game.

The Panthers were driving to tie the game late in the fourth quarter and were facing fourth-and-1 at the North Carolina 26-yard line. Conner tried to bang through the line for the first down, but Tar Heel linebacker Norkeithius Otis stuffed him for a 1-yard loss instead

“I thought I saw an opening but the two middle linebackers crunched up in the middle,” Conner said. “I knew it was going to be tough. I knew even if I did get it, it was going to be close. They have good players and they made a play.”

Coach Paul Chryst considered calling a quarterback sneak but opted for Conner who has been solid this season in short-yardage and goal line situations.

“We discussed [a quarterback sneak] but James had been running the ball pretty hard,” Chryst said. “Obviously, when something doesn’t work, you wish you would have done something different.”

Chryst did not blame him for not making the yard though. He credited Conner after the game for playing well this season. Conner entered the game with 420 yards rushing and six touchdowns on 89 carries.

“Conner has been earning [more playing time]. He ran hard. He got some things going,” Chryst said.

It was Conner that tied the game 27-27 when he banged into the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown 6 minutes into the fourth quarter.

“I was happy when I tied up the game. We knew the game wasn’t over,” Conner said. “I know when we get down near the goal line, my name is usually called. I just wanted to do what I could to tie the game up.”

It was an important milestone in the game after the Panthers fell behind 27-3 early in the third quarter.

“We just wanted to come out better in the second half,” Conner said. “We don’t like to hang our heads and point fingers.”

He does not think the season is lost, though, and plans to do his part to help the Panthers in the two games remaining this season, at Syracuse next week, and at home against Miami the day after Thanksgiving.

“We lost to Florida State [first game of the season] and came back strong [won the next three],” Conner said. “We have two more games left. We’re not deflated.”