The Panthers (3-1) received solid offensive performances from quarterback Bill Stull and tailback Dion Lewis, but the Pittsburgh defense allowed more than 500 total yards for the second time this season and two fourth-quarter touchdowns to surrender the lead and the game.
Pitt began the scoring on its first possession of the game, after redshirt freshman Cameron Saddler returned the opening kick 47 yards into Wolfpack territory. The Panthers needed only 1:48 to march the rest of the way, as Lewis capped the drive with a six-yard scoring run.
Pitt then forced N.C. State to a three-and-out on its first possession, and place-kicker Dan Hutchins extended the lead to 10-0 with a 35-yard field goal.
After a Wolfpack touchdown pass, Lewis found the end zone again with a seven-yard dash on third down. Lewis, who averaged nearly five yards per carry on the day, now has seven rushing touchdowns and one receiving touchdown in his four-game career. He finished with 95 yards on 19 carries.
Pitt held N.C. State to a field goal at the end of the second quarter and entered the half with a 17-10 lead. The Wolfpack then opened the second half with a touchdown drive to even the score, but Pitt continued to answer. Stull stepped up with key completions to Jonathan Baldwin and Oderick Turner before facing second down on the 13-yard line.
Saddler, who had several strong kick returns for the Panthers, caught a quick pass from Stull and weaved through the defense for a 13-yard score that gave the Panthers a 24-17 lead. It was the first touchdown of Saddler's career.
Defensive lineman Chas Alecxih then blocked a 37-yard field goal attempt to give the Panthers possession at their own 21. Two plays later, Stull delivered a perfectly thrown ball over two defenders that hit Baldwin in stride, and he kept running for a 79-yard touchdown. It was the sixth longest passing play in Pitt history and was Baldwin's first score on the season.
But that was all the scoring for Pitt. N.C. State got the final three scores, a 33-yard pass from quarterback Russell Wilson to Jarvis Williams, a seven-yard TD pass from Wilson to tight end George Bryan and the game-winning two-yard scoring run by Toney Baker with 6:28 remaining.
"We are certainly excited to come away with the victory and I know the kids are excited, but in the final analysis, we are not a very good football team right now,'' N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien said. "I've done a bad job coaching, because there are just too many mistakes.''
The two teams combined for 830 total yards, but Wilson threw four touchdown passes for the third straight week and finished 21 of 35 for 322 yards for the Wolfpack (3-1).
Wilson also rushed 10 times for 91 yards and keyed the three straight second-half touchdown drives for N.C. State. The last was kept alive by two pass-interference calls on third downs against Pitt. Baker raced untouched through the left side two plays later to give N.C. State its only lead.
Stull was 12-for-23 for 206 yards with two TD passes, while Dion Lewis ran for 95 yards and two early scores for the Panthers. They had one last chance to force overtime after a shotgun snap sailed over Wilson's head and was recovered by Pitt redshirt sophomore outside linebacker Max Gruder at the N.C. State 8 with 2:45 remaining.
"I thought our offensive line and protection was good, Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "And I thought Billy (Stull) made good decisions.''
However, N.C. State freshman safety Brandan Bishop knocked a sure touchdown catch out of Dorin Dickerson's hands one play before Stull's fourth-down pass sailed out of the end zone with 1:15 left.
Pitt's best start since 2000 was spoiled by an N.C. State team that held Lewis, the Big East's leading rusher, to just 16 yards in the second half. Lewis finished with 95 yards and scored on runs of six and seven yards in the first half.
For a while, it appeared that the Panthers would claim their eighth road victory in nine tries, dating to their upset of then-No. 2 West Virginia in 2007 after Stull connected with sophomore wideout Jonathan Baldwin for a 79-yard touchdown pass to give the Panthers a 31-17 advantage.
But that was the last touchdown for Pitt. Earlier, Wilson -- the NCAA record-holder with 364 straight passes without an interception -- had scoring throws for 23 yards to Taylor Gentry and 38 yards to Baker.
N.C. State entered with the highest-scoring offense in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but that average of nearly 38 points appeared to be misleading because all but three of its 113 total points came in consecutive routs of former I-AA teams Murray State and Gardner-Webb. South Carolina, the only other Division I-A team the Wolfpack played, won 7-3 in the opener.
Instead, N.C. State became the second team this season to rack up 500 total yards against Pitt. The Panthers' defense was considered one of their strengths and was a reason they were the preseason media pick to win the Big East.
Buffalo, which lost big to Temple Saturday, was the other team to record 500 total yards on offense against Pitt.
The Panthers visit Louisville Friday at 8 p.m. in an ESPN 2 game.
N.C. State 38, Pitt 31
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