CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Ryan Switzer sat on the bench, motionless, as the clock struck zero.
While both teams came together after N.C. State’s 28-21 win over UNC on Friday, the senior receiver stayed on the sideline, processing everything. In his last game at Kenan Stadium, Switzer left everything on the field, but it wasn’t enough.
Even 13 catches, 171 yards, and a touchdown couldn’t get a win for his team on Senior Day.
As he stayed seated, quarterback Mitch Trubisky and running back Elijah Hood came over to see their teammate. Trubisky hugged his longtime roommate, then he and Hood helped Switzer to his feet.
For Hood and Trubisky, both juniors, staying around to help out their teammate was never something they questioned.
“We were there to offer support,” Hood said after the game. “We know it’s the senior’s last game and no one wants to go out on their home turf with a loss. There was a lot of consolation.”
As Switzer headed towards the tunnel for the last time, he was met by junior defensive end Nazair Jones, who stopped the receiver in his tracks to embrace him.
“My main thing was making sure (he) was healthy, but the other thing was apologizing,” Jones said. “I mean I gave everything I had but it wasn’t enough to win the game. My whole thing was doing everything I could to help those guys win that last game. I just told them I’m sorry because we didn’t get the job done.”
Switzer suffered what looked to be a lower leg injury in the third quarter. He had broken UNC’s single-season reception total (86) two plays prior to to the injury, adding another record to a prolific and electric career.
He finished out the rest of the game, though. As has been the case throughout his career, no knock was going to take the 5-foot-10 pass catcher out of his final stand at Kenan.
“It’s tough,” Switzer said as he teared up in front of the media following the game. “Regardless of how you play individually, you want to win and go out on a right note. But I don’t regret anything. I played my heart out, I know the guys in the locker room did and I think I can look back and be proud of what I’ve done. Be proud of giving Carolina football everything I have since I’ve been here. So, no regrets. It’s just tough to swallow.”
The Tar Heels' last chance came in the fourth quarter, with the ball and six minutes left -- an opportunity to tie the game. A Trubisky incompletion to senior receiver Bug Howard on fourth-down ended any hope the Tar Heels had of completing the 21-point comeback.
“I was expecting to go out there with six minutes on the clock and put it in the end zone, but we got behind the chains again and a holding call and then you don’t connect twice down the field,” Switzer said.
“It’s tough. I kind of had a feeling in the pit of my stomach like, ‘that’s it, that was the last time.’”
Even in a game where Switzer caught 13 balls, he still felt like he had one last big play in him.
“I just wanted to make a play so bad,” he said. “I just didn’t want to lose. Anytime I go out there I try to...I made some mistakes on third downs trying to make too much happen and get behind the chains. Sometimes it goes your way when you try to make a play, sometimes it doesn’t, but every time I step on the field that’s been my mindset.”
The loss is a tough pill to swallow, and head coach Larry Fedora says that Switzer and his fellow seniors will have to live without a fairy tale ending.
“Forever for these seniors, every time they think about this game, it’s gonna hurt,” Fedora said after the loss. “They know the only way you get anything in life is to earn it. I’m confident that they understand that and they know that that’s just a part of life… Does it taint their legacy? No. But I hate it for them because I hate them to have this feeling for the rest of their life, but that’s just the way life is.”