by Will Graves
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Nyheim Hines ran for an 83-yard touchdown and returned a punt 92 yards for another score on his way to 249 total yards to help No. 20 North Carolina State win its sixth straight game with a 35-17 victory over Pittsburgh on Saturday.
Jaylen Samuels added a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown runs for the Wolfpack (6-1, 4-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), who matched their best ACC start since 2002 by relying on Hines early and Samuels late.
Ryan Finley completed 14 of 25 passes for 198 yards and a 3-yard touchdown pass to Jakobi Meyers late in the third quarter to put N.C. State ahead to stay. Finley extended his streak of consecutive passes without an interception to 313, the second-longest in ACC history.
Ben DiNucci threw for 170 yards and a touchdown for Pitt (2-5, 0-3) before being replaced in the third quarter by freshman Kenny Pickett. Pickett completed 5 of 13 for 61 yards and ran for 18 yards in the first extended action of his career before DiNucci returned in the final minutes.
It wasn’t enough to prevent the Panthers from dropping their sixth consecutive game against a Power Five team.
Pitt is trying to follow the blueprint laid out by the Wolfpack, who are making serious inroads in the ACC Atlantic Division in coach Dave Doeren’s fifth season. N.C State has relied heavily on its defensive front seven and smart decision making by Finley to their highest spot in the polls in 14 years.
The Panthers took an early lead on a 33-yard strike from DiNucci to Jester Weah, putting the Wolfpack behind for the first time since Furman scored the opening field goal a month ago.
The deficit lasted all of two plays. Hines stepped through a tackle at the line of scrimmage and raced to the end zone to tie it. Following a three-and-out by Pitt, Hines fielded Ryan Winslow’s punt and raced untouched to the end zone, the longest punt return for a score for N.C. State since 1926.
Pitt tied it on a 1-yard touchdown by Darrin Hall with 2:38 left in the half but the Wolfpack erased any chance of an upset by controlling the final two quarters.
When Samuels broke free for a 40-yard run with 2:01 left, N.C. State was up 18 and firmly in control of its destiny in the Atlantic.
N.C. State: The Wolfpack are mentally tough. Given a chance to move into sole possession of first in the Atlantic after defending national champion Clemson lost in Syracuse on Friday, N.C. State was outplayed for a large part of the first half but got it going in the second to win going away. If Hines can become consistent, he can take some of the pressure off the “do everything” Samuels.
Pitt: The Panthers don’t have a quarterback or a running game. Pitt has played two quarterbacks in each of its seven games and its leading rushers on Saturday were Pickett and safety Jordan Whitehead.
N.C. State: Off next week then travels to play at No. 16 Notre Dame on Oct. 28.
Pitt: Visits Duke next Saturday. The Panthers have won three of their four meetings with the Blue Devils since joining the ACC in 2013.
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