Pitt fans take Charlotte by storm on eve of ACC Championship

Staff+cleans+up+after+the+ACC+Football+Fan+Fest+on+Friday+night+in+Charlotte%2C+North+Carolina%2C+the+night+before+No.+17+Pitt+plays+in+the+ACC+Championship+against+No.+18+Wake+Forest.

Pamela Smith | Visual Editor

Staff cleans up after the ACC Football Fan Fest on Friday night in Charlotte, North Carolina, the night before No. 17 Pitt plays in the ACC Championship against No. 18 Wake Forest.

By Dalton Coppola, Assistant Sports Editor

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The seven-hour road trip Friday through West Virginia’s country roads and the Blue Ridge Mountains of western Virginia was no match for Panther fans barreling toward the Queen City.

For just the second time since joining the conference in 2011, Pitt football won the Coastal Division and will play in the ACC Championship game. However the game wasn’t in Pittsburgh, rather in Charlotte, North Carolina. Although making the trip required more than 14 hours in a car round trip, it didn’t stop the most dedicated of fans from making the trip.

Charlotte provided Pitt fans with a new atmosphere, traveling south for a matchup with a team from the state itself in the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. Despite Pittsburgh being nearly 500 miles from the site of the championship game, Pitt fans dominated the Queen City’s streets Friday evening.

Although the drive may have been “grueling,” as some described it, students and alumni were anxious to make it to Charlotte the night before the game. Graham Standish, who graduated from Pitt in 1988 with a masters in social work, said in return for making the trip, he hoped for Pitt to pull out a win. While taking a break from driving, Standish talked to The Pitt News at a Sheetz in West Virginia about his expectations for the game.

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“We wouldn’t be driving to Charlotte if we weren’t expecting a win,” Standish said.

For some, making it down to the game wasn’t so simple as getting in a car. Many current students don’t have cars on campus, making transportation to the game more difficult. Pitt Program Council (PPC) offered a package for students which included bussing, lodging and a ticket to the game, but only for 160 students. 

With limited tickets, students camped outside of the William Pitt Union — in the snow — to ensure they would secure a seat on the bus. The line spawned hundreds of students to join the line outside. Head coach Pat Narduzzi got wind of the event and decided to deliver pizzas to the fans going the extra mile.

“Can’t say enough,” Narduzzi said at a Friday afternoon press conference. “I saw them out there, heard about it … I was like, ‘Hey let’s go.’ I wanted to be there and let them know how important they are.”

Upon seeing the high demand for tickets, PPC secured another 150 tickets and a ride to the game — with no overnight lodging — for other students in line hoping to make the trip. The student body’s passion for the football team inspired alumni to make the trip themselves. Jimmy Murray, a 2019 alumnus who flew in Friday night from Pittsburgh, said he’s enjoyed taking in the city on the eve of the big game and representing his alma mater.

“A lot of walking around,” Murray said. “We went to eat for a little bit then we came here to Fan Fest to drink all night.”

Murray said while he is enjoying himself Friday night, he does hope the Pitt defense is ready to play come Saturday.

“I hope the defense steps up and can slow Wake down a little bit,” Murray said. “If that’s the case, I think Kenny takes over and we win soundly.”

When asked what pushed fans to make the trek to Charlotte, the overwhelming majority of answers led back to one reason — redshirt senior quarterback Kenny Pickett. Pickett’s return to the Panthers this season was one that turned some heads. He has maintained throughout the entire season that he came back to win a championship — fans didn’t want to pass up the chance to watch Pickett cap off his Pitt career doing just that.

Standish also said Pickett being at quarterback was an incentive to make the long trip down to Charlotte.

“Kenny Heisman,” Standish said. “Vote for Kenny.”

But the decision to chase a championship has paid off and the fans are grateful for all he’s done for the program. Jeff Keating, a 1992 Pitt alumnus, said he’s hoping his drive from Pittsburgh pays off and he can see Pickett put on a show.

“Kenny Pickett can do his thing,” Keating said. “I hope the defense can just stop [Wake Forest] a little bit and basically outrun them.”

Besides Pickett, the vast majority of fans are hoping to see a competitive contest Saturday night. According to Narduzzi, he expects the fans to get just that.

“We had a great week of practice,” Narduzzi said. “We’ve got a great Wake Forest team, and Coach Clawson does a great job of coaching them, tremendous football coach, tremendous person. I have a ton of respect for him. Can’t wait to tee it up at 8:14.”

The game against Wake Forest will kick off at 8 p.m. and air nationally on ABC.