'Switz' in the Clutch

'Switz' in the Clutch

PITTSBURGH – Ryan Switzer followed a wall of blockers for his first punt return for touchdown on Saturday. With the game tied at 27-all with under five minutes to play, the freshman zigged and zagged his way for a game-winning 61-yard punt return for touchdown.

North Carolina's offense had stalled out in the second half, totaling 107 yards and two turnovers, while the defense had allowed 24 points in the previous five possessions. With his team struggling to swing momentum, the 5-foot-10, 175-pound rookie set out to do it himself.

"I wasn't going to fair catch that one," Switzer said. "That wasn't in my mindset. Coach [Larry] Fedora called the same play I scored on against Virginia, so I knew I had time to catch it. And I just tried to make a play for my team."

Pitt punter Matt Yoklic hit a booming 50-yard kick to UNC's 39-yard line, which Switzer caught before any member of the Panthers' punt cover team had reached midfield.

"The strength of what they do in that conventional style is the two gunners on the outside, so we doubled the two gunners up to just get him started," Fedora said. "And those two guys did a great job of blocking the two gunners, which kept them off.

"The rest of the guys are sitting back in protection and so we knew if we could just get him started, we just wanted to get something positive. And then he did the rest."

Switzer ran left after fielding the punt, made a defender miss at UNC's 48 and then crossed Pitt's 45 before slamming on the brakes and cutting back to his right. He split two Panthers at the 35 and raced across the field before jogging into the end zone from the 10-yard line.

Switzer tied the school record for most punt returns for touchdowns in a game with two and set the UNC single-season record with three. Last week, he returned a punt 85 yards for touchdown against Virginia.

The Charleston, West Virginia native also had an 81-yard punt return for touchdown wiped off the board due to a block in the back call at Virginia Tech.

Defensive tackle Andre Purvis is the only other player in UNC history to score twice on punt returns (Tulane, ‘93). He recovered a pair of blocked punts in the end zone.

Switzer's 65-yard punt return for touchdown in the final minutes of the first half was lacking in the ad-lib department. He made one defender miss before reaching the right sideline and turning up field toward the end zone.

Both punt returns, while different in how they played out, had equivalent results.

"The first one we had a wall set up to the right of the field, and once I hit the sideline, I pretty much went untouched," Switzer said. "The second punt return… it was pretty much on me to make guys miss. Some guys made some key blocks to help get me in the end zone."

Switzer is averaging 18.4 yards per punt return on the season, which currently ranks as the best season average in school history, ahead of Charlie "Choo Choo" Justice's 17.5 mark set in 1948. As of Saturday night, Switzer led the country in punt returns for touchdown and had moved into the top-five nationally in punt return average.

UNC has five punt returns for touchdowns in the past two seasons, which leads the country.


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