I had a similar experience in Lake Michigan off the shore of Highland Park, IL. Earlier that day a Hobie 16 had been towed back after it had "turtled" in 25-30 mph winds.
People told me I was nutz to be sailing such a small cat in the weather we had this day, but I had guests (whom had never been sailing) that I promised an exciting day.
To answer your question about pitch poling, it will do this if you do not have the mast raked back enough for the heavier winds. While we were out there, I had mistakenly jibbed in REALLY HEAVY WIND. I was really suprised that I didn't blow out the mast from sound of the main slamming over and narrowly missing a couple of heads on the way. In all this excitement, I lost my senses of where the wind was coming from, and started to loose control of the boat, so I let go of the main. At that point I realized the wind was almost directly behind me, and both bows took an accelerated plunge almost all the way up to the back stays.
Now luckily the wind let up for a moment, and I was able to get my bearings, and head the boat almost directly upwind to keep the main somewhat stalled.
In the end we all made it back safely to the harbor, and although about 6 Coronas later, still completely sober.