Panther-lair - Mathews plays the role of hero for the day
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Mathews plays the role of hero for the day

The best way to sum up Aaron Mathews’ role on the Pitt football team is that of an unsung hero. He is not the wide receiver that gets a lot of targets throughout the game or puts up huge stats. He is often called on to be a blocker more than a pass catcher. In short, he does all the little things that help a football team be successful.

During Pitt’s 35-34 upset win over 15th-ranked UCF, Aaron Mathews was more than a unsung hero, he was the star of the game. Trailing UCF by six points with under a minute left, Pitt was facing a 4th and three from the four yard line. Rather than going with a conventional play call, Pitt offensive coordinator Mark Whipple dialed up the “Pitt Special” with a direct snap going to running back A.J. Davis who flipped it to Mathews and he found quarterback Kenny Pickett for a four-yard touchdown pass that proved to be the game winner.

“When they first called it, I’m thinking I’m just going to run it then the two big rushers came off the edge and then I saw KP open so I just slipped him a little pass,” Mathews said of his game-winning touchdown pass.

Mathews was a star quarterback in high school for nearby Clairton, but has exclusively played wide receiver in college. Throughout the years, he’s still always felt that confidence with the ball in his hands.

“I’m always messing with Coach Whipple and telling him to put me at quarterback, but it’s never anything serious,” Mathews said.

On Saturday, it was serious.

With the game on the line, Pitt called a trick play that worked to perfection. It may have also changed the course of Pitt’s season as well as the Panthers were looking down at a 1-3 start, but have a different outlook by picking up win No. 2 on Saturday.

“I never really know how the game is going to end up, I just hope that we end up on top,” Mathews commented on if would have predicted himself throwing a game winning touchdown.

“My number got called and I had to do what I had to do.”

It wasn’t just the game winning touchdown for Mathews. With Pitt up 14-0 in the middle of the second quarter, the Panthers had all the momentum and Mathews kept it going as he blocked the UCF punt which allowed freshman linebacker Wendell Davis to scoop up the loose ball and score to give Pitt a 21-point first half lead.

“You just got to take advantage of your opportunities,” Mathews said of his punt block. “Coach Powell wanted somebody to make a play on special teams and I put in my hands to block a punt.”

Even early on in the game, Mathews broke loose for a 24-yard catch and run and drew some attention as the 6’4” wide out hurdled a defender along the way to help set up Pitt deep in UCF territory.

“That’s just instincts, I didn’t even really know I was going to do it,” he said. “It just happened honestly.”

A game winning touchdown pass, a blocked punt, and a highlight reel run - all in the day’s work for the Pitt senior wide receiver.

“I’m so proud of that guy,” Narduzzi said of his senior receiver. “I mean, he’s not a captain, but I see that guy’s maturity every week get better and better, but he’s mature, he’s a leader of this football team. He really is. He’s done a great job. He’s been a great player for years, and Coach Whipple and the offensive staff and Coach Beatty have really utilized him in some great ways.”

Again, it all comes back down to that game-defining play, one that Mathews said the Pitt offense practices regularly.

“We ran it live one time in camp and it worked against our starting defense, so we’ll do it on air on our walkthrough on Thursday’s, like every Thursday, so that’s 2-for-2 technically because we ran it against our defense one time,” he said.

Pitt senior safety Damar Hamlin had a different recollection on how it worked during the scrimmage.

“No it didn’t work. If it was live, he would have gotten tackled,” Hamlin said. “We shut it down.”

The Pitt senior relented, though, “I’m going to let him have his moment,” said Hamlin.

Nobody may know how the “Pitt Special” worked in an August scrimmage, but for Pitt and Aaron Mathews it worked when it mattered most on Saturday.