Football: Flannigan: Somebody needs to step up as a leader

By Kelly Flanigan

With less than three minutes left in the fourth quarter, Pitt linebacker Max Gruder recovered a… With less than three minutes left in the fourth quarter, Pitt linebacker Max Gruder recovered a fumble on NC State’s 8-yard line.

Bill Stull took the field with the offense, looking to tie the game.

On first down, freshman running back Dion Lewis ran for a short gain.

A play later, Stull and Dorin Dickerson connected on a pass — for a loss.

On third down, Dickerson tried to catch a lofty pass in the end zone.

With a final chance to score a touchdown, Stull dropped back and overthrew Jonathan Baldwin, who was not within 10 feet of the pass.

The game left Pitt fans disappointed and shocked — the Panthers had just lost 38-31.

During these painstaking last minutes, fans got scarring images of NC State Wolfpack quarterback Russell Wilson shredding defensive coordinator Phil Bennett’s secondary with cross routes.

He looked like an all-star as he racked up 322 passing yards and threw four touchdown passes.

The Panther defense seemed unable to slow the explosive offense.

NC State became the second team this season to rack up more than 500 yards against Pitt — Buffalo’s offense put up 500 yards on Sept. 12.

Fans must question the leadership on this team and look for a leader to carry the Panthers this season.

Lewis picked up where LeSean McCoy left off, carrying for 95 yards and two touchdowns. But when NC State’s defense shut down the running game in the second half, Pitt needed another player to step up.

It’s disappointing that players such as Baldwin, Oderick Turner, Nate Byham and Cedric McGee were not called upon more frequently.

With so many experienced playmakers, it is frustrating not to be able to convert when the game is on the line.

As conference play approaches, the Panthers need a player who wants to make a difference.

Kick returner Cam Saddler showed promise as he returned the opening Wolfpack kickoff for 50 yards and scored his first touchdown of the season off of a screen pass from Stull.

On defense, lineman Mick Williams left everything he had at Carter-Finley Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

He seemed to be everywhere on the field at once — pile-driving the NC State running back, forcefully tackling on NC State’s 1-yard line for a near safety, causing a fumble and hurrying several passes.

Williams, a senior, was Pitt’s defensive all-star and MVP in Saturday’s game.

Traveling to Kentucky on Friday night to face the Louisville Cardinals requires Panthers to put this painful loss behind them as they enter Big East Conference play.

Fans said they hope the Panthers will once again be contenders for the Big East title.