Before Pitt’s upset of Clemson, chat with assistant proved prophetic for Chris Blewitt
Unaware he was walking toward Pitt football history, Chris Blewitt left the team hotel on the morning of Nov. 12, 2016, first stopping to chat with special teams coach Andre Powell.
A veteran of more games than he can count, Powell still likes to kid with his players, especially the ones he knows can take it. Blewitt, the kicker, was one of those players.
Contacted Wednesday at his home in Alexandria, Va., where Pitt’s 43-42 victory over Clemson is always a welcome topic of conversation, Blewitt recalled Powell’s words.
“I was walking out of the hotel that morning,” Blewitt said, “and coach Powell said to me, ‘If we have to kick a field goal to win the game, and we get the ball on the 30 on the right hash, are you going to make it?’ ”
What else could he say? Except, “Yeah.”
That was the extent of what turned out to be a prophetic conversation. The end of the game played out just as Powell described, with Pitt on the Clemson 30-yard line, fourth down, needing a 48-yard field goal by Blewitt to upset the No. 2 team in the nation.
The kick was good, and a noisy Death Valley crowd of 81,048 went quiet — except for those people cheering for the Panthers. Blewitt jumped into the arms of holder Ryan Winslow, was tackled by offensive lineman Connor Dintino and all of a sudden, he had a story to tell anyone who asks.
“It always comes up,” he said.
It might come up a few times Saturday night, too, at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.
Blewitt and teammates Winslow, Matt Galambos (a starting linebacker, who was Pitt’s leading tackler in that game), and David Murphy (former Pitt long snapper) will be there to watch the rematch, this time with the ACC championship on the line. Pat Quirin, the Central Catholic graduate and long snapper that day, can’t make it. He’s in Fayetteville, N.C., training to be a Green Beret, Blewitt said.
As you might imagine, Blewitt likes to talk about the game, even the extra-point and 53-yard field goal attempts that were blocked in the first half. After the extra-point that went awry, Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi put his arm around Blewitt, consoled him for several seconds, told him he would need him later and punctuated the talk with a peck on the side of his head.
“He confessed his love for me and kissed me,” Blewitt said, smiling at the memory.
He said he also received a huge boost at halftime from assistant strength coach Austin Addington-Strapp.
“He said some nice words, helped me out of that funk,” Blewitt said. “He said, ‘I wouldn’t want anyone else kicking for us but you.’ All of our strength coaches, that’s where you get your attitude from. I miss seeing them every day.”
In the moments before the field goal (even while Pitt was on defense), almost no one spoke to Blewitt, except punt returner Quadree Henderson.
“He said, ‘We’re going to put you in a position to hit the game-winner,’ ” Blewitt said. “I told him, ‘They’re going to punt, and you’re going to take it to house and we won’t even need a field goal.’ ”
But history was calling Blewitt.
There was a lot of noise and Clemson fans waving their arms at him, but he said he tried to clear his mind before trotting onto the field.
“When you go out for any of those situations, you don’t actually think about stuff like that,” he said. “You really don’t think. It doesn’t matter how many people are in the stands. It’s 11-on-11 every time you go out there.
“Just like any position, when you come through at clutch moments, it’s your preparation. Your confidence comes from your preparation. If something goes wrong, maybe you didn’t prepare enough.”
That’s the message he sends to his players at Hayfield (Va.) High School, where he is the special teams and kicking coach and his star pupil is a female, sophomore Elly Gorham.
“She did well on extra points,” Blewitt said.
After he graduated as the second-leading all-time scorer at Pitt with 363 points and 55 field goals in four years, Blewitt was invited to a Steelers minicamp. But he hasn’t been able to find employment in the NFL.
“I’m working out, staying ready,” he said, “trying to stay active for that shot.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at [email protected] or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.