Panther-lair - Pitt wins a 'personal game' in finally beating UNC
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Pitt wins a 'personal game' in finally beating UNC

Jaylen Twyman was 10 years old on Dec. 26, 2009. Chances are, he wasn’t watching the Meineke Car Care Bowl the day after Christmas.

In that case, he didn’t see the last time Pitt beat North Carolina. But in the 10 years since then, Twyman has certainly learned plenty about the Panthers and the Tar Heels, and more specifically the Panthers’ inability to beat the Tar Heels as members of the ACC.

Twyman has been at Pitt since the summer of 2017, and in that time he has watched his team lose to UNC in a couple of maddening ways as the Panthers continued a trend that began in 2013. But on Thursday night at Heinz Field, Twyman and his teammates exorcised one of the program’s longest-running and deepest-seeded curses as members of the ACC.

They beat North Carolina, and they did it in exciting fashion, building a lead, losing that lead and then claiming the victory in overtime.

For Twyman and the rest of Pitt’s players, it was a win they had been looking forward to for quite some time.

“I felt like it was personal, but for the seniors,” Twyman said after the game. “I really wanted to get this win for those guys. There’s a lot of guys that have been here five and four years that have never beat North Carolina and I was more so playing for them instead of playing for myself.”

Twyman said he told redshirt senior cornerback Dane Jackson after the game that the win was for the seniors, but the redshirt sophomore defensive tackle certainly did his part. Twyman finished with 2.5 sacks, including a big play behind the line of scrimmage on third-and-11 on the game’s penultimate play in overtime.

For a team that blew fourth-quarter leads against UNC in 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2017 and held halftime lead in 2018, Thursday night’s script felt all too familiar. The Panthers took a 24-10 lead into the fourth quarter before the Tar Heels rattled off a pair of touchdowns to tie the score, and then when Pitt hit a field goal to take a lead, UNC answered back with a three-pointer of its own.

For the fifth time in seven games against the Tar Heels, the Panthers had blown a fourth-quarter lead. But unlike those other occasion, this time, Pitt came back.

And that made it different from the first six games the Panthers played against the Tar Heels in the ACC. A lot of Pitt players have gone through the program without ever beating UNC, and Twyman and his mates knew that the seniors on the current team were quite close to suffering the same fate.

The Ryan Switzer punt returns in 2013 and the Mitch Trubisky fourth-down conversions in 2016 and the fumble at the goal line in 2017 and the uncanny ability of UNC to always get the best of Pitt - the 2019 team had a chance to break the trend, and the players came into the game with that goal in mind.

“It was a personal game,” quarterback Kenny Pickett said. “We made it personal this week. A lot of those guys have never lost to Pitt on that team ever, so it was a really good feeling to get that win.”