Big Plays, Right Time

CHARLOTTE — Add one more item to the list of guarantees in life. There are now three things that can be counted on — death, taxes and Patrick White winning bowl games.

West Virginia's senior quarterback threw for 332 yards and three touchdowns, rushed for 55 more and became the first quarterback in NCAA history to win four bowl games as he led the Mountaineers (9-4) to a 31-30 win over North Carolina in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

>"It's satisfying to get a win for my teammates," said White, who was named the game's MVP. "This is the last time I am going to wear this uniform, and I wanted to go out on top. I did everything I could do to help make that happen. It was a wonderful win, and we always like to finish strong.

"I enjoyed every second of it from the time I took my visit until today," White continued, reflecting on a great career. "I will never forget it. Once a Mountaineer, always a Mountaineer."

White's performance overshadowed a career day for North Carolina wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, who finished with eight catches for 217 yards and three touchdowns for a Tar Heel offense that racked up 370 yards of production, most of it through the air against a West Virginia secondary that was missing both Brandon Hogan and Sidney Glover.

Down by a point with 3:15 on the fourth quarter clock, though, the West Virginia defense came up with a stop when it needed it most. After North Carolina moved the ball to its 39-yard line, Pat Lazear stepped in front of a T.J. Yates pass and scored an interception that virtually ended the game. WVU needed only take a knee to put the game away and finish the year with a victory for the fourth straight season.

"It was a great call by the coaches," said Lazear. "All I had to do was shuffle a couple steps. The receiver was right next to me. I was reading the quarterbacks eyes, and he was looking dead at the receiver. I just kind of shuffled toward him and let him throw it to me. Hopefully that was a legendary play."

"That has really been the story for our guys all year," added defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel of the defense's late stop. "It was nice to see them step up and make a play to send the seniors out the right way. It was a little too close, but we hung in there and made the plays at the end."

West Virginia set the tone for a Play Station-like first quarter early in the game, as North Carolina's decision to take the opening kick backfired. A holding penalty and an unsportsmanlike conduct flag, combined with a three-and-out, caused the Tar Heels (8-5) to have to punt from deep in their own territory, and WVU started its opening possession at its own 45-yard line.

White and company took it from there, marching 55 yards on eight plays. The drive was highlighted by a 22-yard pass from White to Jock Sanders on third-and-long that kept the drive alive and moved the Mountaineers deep into Carolina territory. Noel Devine capped the march with an 18-yard touchdown run on another third down, putting the Mountaineers on the board first and providing the first spark for what became an electrifying quarter.

North Carolina struck right back on a 73-yard touchdown pass from Yates to Hakeem Nicks. The play-action bomb bounced off of West Virginia's Ellis Lankster, who had great coverage on the play, but it fell perfectly into the arms of the UNC receiver, tying the game 7-7 with 7:22 to play in the opening quarter and giving Nicks his 10th touchdown reception of the season, the single-season UNC record that would be further extended as the game moved along.

"I really felt bad about it," said Lankster of the ill-fated play. "I thought I had it, but it went off my shoulder pad. But (defensive backs) Coach (David) Lockwood always tells me that cornerbacks have to have a short memory."

White helped keep the next WVU drive alive when he turned a broken play on a third-and-10 into a 16-yard gain that put the Mountaineers into Tar Heel territory. The Mountaineers followed that up with a 44-yard strike from White to Alric Arnett that found put the Mountaineers ahead 14-7. The one-handed highlight grab left UNC players in shock, but the Tar Heels didn't take long to shake off the cobwebs.

A 66-yard halfback pass from Cooter Arnold to Nicks on the first play of the ensuing possession caught the WVU defense off guard, and Nicks broke a couple tackles on his way to a game-tying touchdown, and 28 points were already on the scoreboard with five minutes left in the first quarter.

White made sure the scoring didn't stop there as he capped a 5-play, 65-yard drive with a 35-yard touchdown pass to Bradley Starks. White stepped up in the pocket to find the former quarterback who had gained a step on the Tar Heel defensive back, making the score 21-14 with more than two minutes still to play in one of the more entertaining quarters of the college football season.

"I had a post route, and I have been working with Coach (Chris) Beatty on running it differently," said Starks. "I saw it, and I just had to go get it. Actually going after one and catching it is a little better than throwing (a touchdown pass)."

The first frame finally came to an end with the ball resting on the WVU 2-yard line, and the Mountaineers tried to drown the fireworks when the teams switched ends of the field. West Virginia held the Tar Heels out of the end zone on four straight plays, and the Mountaineers took over at the 1-yard line after the first defensive stop since the opening possession.

Devine, though, was stopped on the first play of the drive, and the officials ruled that the WVU tailback did not make it out of the end zone, adding two points to the North Carolina tally and giving it the football back in great position at the WVU 40-yard line.

The Tar Heels marched all the way to the West Virginia 20-yard line, where it appeared as though the drive would stall. A delay of game penalty turned a third-and-4 into a third-and-11, but Yates didn't panic, finding a wide-open Nicks who found himself all alone when Lankster slipped on the coverage, for a 25-yard touchdown. The five-play drive put North Carolina ahead for the first time, 23-21 with 10:37 left before halftime.

West Virginia was stopped for the first time on the next drive when Jock Sanders retreated after a third down catch at midfield, turning what would have been a WVU first down into a fourth-and-2. The Mountaineers had no choice but to punt it away, and North Carolina responded by going back to the air against a depleted and dejected WVU secondary. After one first down, though, West Virginia's defense came up with an important stop.

The brief appearances by the defenses appeared to be short-lived as WVU got its offensive machine cranked back up, trying to take back the lead before the half. West Virginia used up all but 52 seconds of the second quarter driving to the North Carolina 9-yard line, but on a third-and-goal, White was intercepted trying to find Jalloh in the end zone, and the teams headed to the locker room with North Carolina ahead by 2.

A little extra Gatorade and a few words of wisdom did nothing to cool off the offenses, at least at first. West Virginia began the second half with the football at its own 27-yard line, and it subsequently marched 65 yards down to the North Carolina 9-yard line, using both ground and aerial assaults. A 29-yard Pat McAfee field goal gave the lead back to WVU, 24-23 with nine minutes left in the third quarter.

True to form, North Carolina came back with an answer, turning solid starting position into points. Nicks was again the top play-maker, recording a pair of acrobatic catches — including a highlight grab where he moved the football from hand to hand behind his back while WVU linebacker Pat Lazear stood watching, convinced that Nicks had dropped the football — to keep the Tar Heels moving and Yates capped an 8-play, 62-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown run around the right side to put UNC back in front 30-24.

Both teams squandered opportunities to put more points on the board in the third quarter, but North Carolina had everything going its way when it took over at the West Virginia 40 yard-line after a failed fourth down conversion try with just under nine minutes to play in the game.

A Tar Heel score would have likely put the game away, but West Virginia was given new life when Robert Sands forced a Draughn fumble, and J.T. Thomas recovered at the WVU 30-yard line. Thee plays and 1:05 later, White, who connected with Jock Sanders on a 41-yard pass earlier in the drive, found Arnett on a 20-yard touchdown reception, and McAfee's extra point gave WVU a lead it would not relinquish, 31-30.

Devine led the way for the Mountaineers' ground attack with 61 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. White set career highs in both passing yards and completions, while moving into second place in career passing yards with 6,049. Arnett was White's favorite target, finishing with 93 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

"They gave us some open holes, and Pat just had the confidence in us as receivers to make plays," said Arnett. "Our coaching staff kept getting me the ball, and Pat was on target with everything."

WVU's senior class became the winningest in school history with a 42-9 record in their Mountaineer careers.

"Its phenomenal to go out on top like this," said WVU receiver Dorrell Jalloh, who finished with five catches for 36 yards. "All the preparation and hard work I put in over the years were worth it. It was really a special feeling."

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