CHARLOTTE, N.C. – When North Carolina freshman Ryan Switzer reported to training camp in August he was a little miffed to learn he was third on the depth chart at punt returner.
“I kind of got mad because when I was getting recruited I was told I going to start at punt return,” Switzer said.
Rather than pout, the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Switzer went about working even harder to earn the starting job.
The 18-year-old not only did that, but capped a memorable season Saturday by returning a punt 86 yards for a touchdown to help North Carolina beat Cincinnati 39-17 for its first Belk Bowl title in four tries. It was Switzer’s fifth punt return for a TD this season, tying an NCAA record.
T.J. Logan returned a kickoff 78 yards for a TD, Marquise Williams threw for 171 yards and a score and Romar Morris had two TD runs as the Tar Heels (7-6) won a bowl game for the first time since 2010.
The victory also capped a huge turnaround for the Tar Heels, who started the season 1-5.
“We’re standing here today because of our coaching staff and our senior leadership,” said Switzer, the game’s MVP. “Those two groups, they didn’t let us hang our heads. We knew we had the talent, the ability to turn the season around.”
Said second-year coach Larry Fedora: “At 1-5, nobody thought we would be sitting here today. But these guys kept believing and got it done.”
Cincinnati (9-4) was looking to become the bowl’s first back-to-back champion since Virginia did it 10 years ago, but Brendon Kay – the MVP last year – was limited to 181 yards passing and no touchdowns.