Sep 5, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; A Pittsburgh Panthers helmet sits on the bench before the Panthers host the Youngstown State Penguins at Heinz Field. The Panthers won 45-37. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
20. 2009 Meinke Car Care Bowl
The North Carolina Tar Heels made a second straight visit to the Meinke Car Care Bowl in 2009. They had ultimately been put there by the bowl selection rules that forced bowls to take Clemson over the Heels. There was not a lot of excitement for a return to Charlotte and despite record crowds in 2004 and 2008, the 2009 game barely drew 50,000 fans.
Still there was something to play for, since the Tar Heels had lost the game by one point the year before, a victory would have indicated progress. The Tar Heels were further along with Greg Little having become a full time receiver and junior T.J. Yates having become the established quarterback.
The defense was also a full year better and had most its pieces like Bruce Carter, Quan Sturdivant, and Kendric Burney. The line had Robert Quinn and Quinton Coples. Little did we know then that this was the last time we would see that defense in full strength.
Pitt also had a couple of secret or not-so-secret weapons. Freshman tailback and current New England Patriot Dion Lewis was the featured weapon in an offense run by coordinator Frank Cignetti. Cignetti had been the Tar Heels offensive coordinator in the final year of the John Bunting era.
Little made the first splash in the end zone for the Tar Heels’ pro-style scheme, catching the ball on top of the Pitt defender before getting flagged for excessive celebration.
On the other side of the ball the Pitt offensive line kept Lewis going forward against the Carolina defense. The only good thing was the Tar Heel defense kept Pitt out of the end zone and forced them to kick field goals so that Pitt could never really pull away from the 8-4 Heels.
The third quarter saw the Heels finally pull into the 17-16 lead with a second touchdown pass from Yates to Little. Then there were some stopped drives and Pitt got the ball back one final time with eight minutes to go in the game. Cignetti called a masterful drive that saw Pitt kick the winning field goal with no time left.
The next year a number of Tar Heel players would be suspended and the full development of the 2009 team will always remain an unknown.