During last week’s game, North Carolina freshman wide receiver/punt returner Ryan Switzer broke loose for his first career punt return touchdown. This week, Switzer left North Carolina’s game against Pittsburgh as the all-time leader in punt return touchdowns for a single-season in school history with three.
With just under five minutes remaining in the game, and the score tied 27-27, Switzer returned a Pittsburgh (5-5, 2-4 ACC) punt 61 yards to score the game-winning touchdown for the Tar Heels (5-5, 4-3 ACC). In the first half Switzer returned a punt 65 yards to the endzone, giving UNC a 24-3 lead at halftime.
In a game where the North Carolina offense sputtered tremendously in the second half with turnovers and short drives resulting in punts, the Tar Heels needed a big play on special teams or defense in order to overcome some adversity on the road. Switzer was the answer all UNC coaches, players, and fans were looking for.
The North Carolina football team was leading the Pittsburgh Panthers 27-3 with 11:27 left in the 3rd quarter. It looked like the Tar Heels were going to walk out of Pittsburgh with an easy conference win and improve their overall record to 5-5. However, in typical Carolina fashion, nothing came easy and the Panthers tied the game at 27-27 with 8:52 remaining in the 4th quarter.
The Panthers scored on two long touchdown drives of 76 and 96 yards in the second half to close the gap to 27-17. However, the Tar Heels still seemed in control barring something unexpected happening – like two fumbles in less than one minute leading to 10 straight Pittsburgh points.
First, Carolina running back Romar Morris fumbled inside their own 30 yard line to give the Panthers short field position. Yet, the defense held strong and allowed the Pittsburgh offense only three points, cutting the lead to 27-20.
On the ensuing kickoff, freshman running back T.J. Logan fumbled at the UNC 13 yard line. Two plays later, Pittsburgh running back James Connor ran for a two yard touchdown tying the game at 27-27.
North Carolina got the ball back with just over eight minutes remaining, but could not get anything going offensively and had to punt. After downing the punt at the Pittsburgh seven yard line, the UNC defense forced a crucial three and out, setting up Switzer’s best Giovanni Bernard impersonation.
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It was unfortunate that Carolina even found themselves in a close game, as they completely dominated the first 30 minutes of the game with a 21 point halftime lead. In the first half, quarterback Marquise Williams totaled 170 yards with two rushing touchdowns, becoming the first UNC quarterback since Darian Durant in 2001 to rush for two touchdowns in a game. Williams finished the day as Carolina’s leading rusher with 79 yards on 15 carries, and also threw for 173 yards.
The defense played well throughout the game, thanks in large part to senior defensive end Kareem Martin, who finished the game with 3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Martin now has nine sacks on the year, placing him eighhth on the UNC single-season sack list tied with William Fuller and Greg Ellis.
After their victory on the road against Pittsburgh, the Tar Heels have their record back to .500 after starting the season 1-5. North Carolina is currently riding a four game winning streak, dating back to October 26th.
With home games remaining against Old Dominion and Duke over the last two weeks of the season, Carolina has a good chance at going to a bowl game for the first time since 2011. UNC must win at least one of the games to become bowl-eligible and they will be a heavy favorite next week against ODU.
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