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Saturday January 23rd

UNC's Ryan Switzer says goodbye to Kenan Stadium with record performance

<p>Senior Ryan Switzer (3) is looked at on the field after a minor injury in the game Friday against N.C. State.&nbsp;</p>
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Senior Ryan Switzer (3) is looked at on the field after a minor injury in the game Friday against N.C. State. 

His forehead was red from the pressure of his helmet, and his legs ached from the weight of his performance — 13 catches for 171 yards, more than his North Carolina teammates combined.

But the sharpest pain was saying goodbye.

“Regardless of how you play individually, you want to win and you want to go out on the right note,” he said, searching for the strength he had on the field. “But I don’t regret anything.”

His voice trailed as emotions stained his face. This wasn’t a fitting farewell — a 28-21 loss to rival N.C. State (6-6, 3-5 ACC) to knock the Tar Heels (8-4, 5-3 ACC) out of ACC title contention — but he couldn’t escape it. He left everything on the field, and he wasn’t about to lose it here.

The memories came flooding back. It was over, at least at Kenan Stadium. This game was his lasting impression.

“I hate it for these seniors …” Coach Larry Fedora said. “Every time they think about this game, it’s gonna hurt them.”

Even in a loss, Switzer left his indelible mark.

The highlights started in the second quarter, when he turned a sideline heave into a 28-yard gain. Two drives later, he was in the end zone for his 18th career touchdown, tying him for fifth in UNC history.

But the Tar Heels couldn’t hold onto the momentum — or anything, for that matter.

“Everyone pretty much had a drop out there,” junior tailback Elijah Hood said.

Even Switzer wasn’t immune, losing his grip on a screen pass the next series. It wouldn’t happen again.

His time was running short, seeing one target over the next 21 minutes. The Tar Heels trailed by three touchdowns, and Switzer’s swan song was reaching its final note.

But it wasn’t over. He made sure of that.

In the final minute of the third quarter, Switzer netted back-to-back big gains — securing the UNC single-season receptions record. Yet the celebration was short-lived. On the next play, Switzer crumpled to the ground.

Three quarters of collisions had taken their toll, as the senior star limped off the field before a hushed crowd.

This wasn’t the end. Not yet.

A minute later, he was back. He had fallen to the ground, but the ball found him anyway for a 45-yard gain. The next play, Switzer plucked an 18-yard pass from the air before getting slammed into the ground.

Once again, he limped across the field. He was down, but he wasn’t out.

With 10 minutes left and his team down two scores, he was back to receive the punt. Gio Bernard’s game-winning return against N.C. State in 2012 danced through his mind.

He took off from the 26-yard line and sprinted six yards upfield. A jump cut here, a stutter-step there — the hole opened up.

But the Wolfpack collapsed on him seven yards later. Heroics would have to wait.

“I just wanted to make a play so bad,” he said, his voice trembling. “Just didn’t want to lose.”

With 6:53 left, the Tar Heels were only seven points short. On 2nd-and-15, Switzer caught a crossing pattern in stride and dove for the sticks, keeping the drive alive.

Again, he limped across the field. He wasn’t finished — two plays later, he was back.

But it didn’t matter. UNC’s drive stalled when a prayer on 4th-and-20 slipped off senior Bug Howard’s fingertips.

Three minutes and 10 seconds showed on the clock, but Switzer’s time was over.

“I kinda had a feeling just in the pit of my stomach that that was it,” he said.

N.C. State bled the clock dry, and North Carolina’s career receptions leader walked off the field for the final time. UNC has one game left — a bowl game to be announced on Dec. 4 — but for Switzer, it was time to say goodbye.

“I think I can look back and be proud of what I’ve done and just proud of giving Carolina football everything I had since I’ve been here,” he said. “So yeah, no regrets. Just tough to swallow.”

His choked back a few more tears. He had left everything on the field. Now, it was time to let everything go.

@CJacksonCowart

sports@dailytarheel.com



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