By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It was a fitting way for Pat White’s career at West Virginia to come to an end.
With a win.
No one knew that better than West Virginia head coach Bill Stewart, who gave White a big hug during the post-game press conference after the Mountaineers’ 31-30 Meineke Car Care Bowl win Saturday over North Carolina.
“I can’t tell you how blessed I am, I’m sitting by the greatest winner in college football today,” Stewart said. “He’s the greatest to ever wear the old Gold and Blue, it’s a fitting tribute that this young man is the MVP.”
White threw for a career-high 332 yard and three touchdowns, and the West Virginia defense forced a pair of turnovers late in the game as the Mountaineers finished its season with a 9-4 record in front of a Meineke Bowl record crowd of 73,712 at Bank of America Stadium.
He was 26-of-32 through the air, connecting on scoring passes of 44 and 20 yards to Alric Arnett and 35 to Bradley Starks. He also ran the ball for 55 yards, as the ’Eers rallied from a 30-24 deficit.
The deciding score was a 20-yard bullet of a pass to Alric between two defenders in the end zone with 7:54 left in the game. West Virginia out-gained the Heels 455-370 and ran 74 plays to 55 for North Carolina.
“It’s just satisfying to get a win for my teammates, knowing this is the last time I am going to put on this uniform,” said White, who was selected as the MVP of the game. “I definitely wanted to go out on top and we accomplished that,”
The teams combined for 35 first quarter points, and traded the lead five times in a highly competitive game. While White was his usual self, Hakeem Nicks set North Carolina (8-5) bowl records with eight catches, for 217 yards and three touchdowns. T.J. Yates was impressive for the Tar Heels behind center, completing 15-of-25 for 211 yards.
“I just wanted to make plays when my named was called,” said Hicks, who played in what amounted to a home game in front a huge collection of North Carolina fans. “I just wanted to contribute to the offense the best way possible. When they called my name I just wanted to make plays in front of my home crowd.”
Nicks had actually set all three marks with 181 yards and three scores with 10:37 still left in the second quarter. He had five more catches in the second half, but was held to 38 yards.
“We tried to bring a little bit more pressure in a different way,” Stewart said. “I told the defensive coaches, ‘My God, we have nobody that can cover him’, the guy’s going to be an outstanding (pro) prospect…just do whatever you’ve got to do.”
North Carolina (8-5) played turnover-free ball until its defense stopped White on a 4th-and-1 with 8:54 left in the final quarter. Two plays later, Robert Sands stripped Tar Heels’ tailback Shaun Draughn, and the pigskin was recovered by J.T. Thomas at the West Virginia 30.
On West Virginia’s first play, White hit Jock Sanders over the middle for 41 yards. After a nine-yard run by White, the southpaw signal-caller found Arnett in the end zone for the score.
Pat McAfee, who also had a 25-yard field goal to give West Virginia a 24-23 lead in the third quarter, made his fourth extra point of the game for the deciding point.
Arnett led West Virginia with seven catches for 93 yards and two touchdowns, including a nifty one-handed catch of a White touchdown pass in the first period.
“They gave us some open holes, it wasn’t the greatest coverage, but it wasn’t too bad,” Arnett said. “Pat made us feel confident in ourselves and we went out and made plays.”
West Virginia’s defense followed with a pair of stops to secure the win. After John Holmes sacked Yates on a third down play to force a North Carolina punt, Pat Lazear stepped in front of intended receiver Cooter Arnold for an interception on the Heels’ final possession to send the West Virginia seniors out with four straight bowl wins.
“I was just flying around making plays, it was my last game in a college uniform and I just wanted to do my best today,” West Virginia linebacker Mortty Ivy said. “That was crazy because I didn’t think (Lazear) was going to catch it. We talked all week about who had the best hands and I’ve still got more picks than him, but you know how it goes.”
The Mountaineers dedicated the win to sophomore defensive back Brandon Hogan, who missed the game with an undisclosed illness. White and long snapper and Princeton product Adam Hughes entered the field carrying the No. 22 jersey normally worn by Hogan.
“We were just paying tribute. We’ve got a fallen brother that’s a little sick right now,” Stewart said. “It’s just an honor and a tribute…we’ll let that go for now.”
Offensive fireworks started early. After North Carolina punted on its first possession, there wasn’t another punt until McAfee booted one for West Virginia with 8:42 left in the second quarter. The points certainly caught Stewart off guard.
“I told all these guys, what is going on? I told all our guys that this is going to be a defensive game,” said Stewart, who led West Virginia to a second bowl win this year, after the Mountaineers won the Fiesta Bowl last January over Oklahoma. “I said, 'My God, we’re going to run out of men.' It was just fast and furious.”
West Virginia scored on its first possession, with White going 4-for-4, followed by a 18-yard scoring run by Noel Devine, who led the Mountaineers with 61 yards on the ground. North Carolina answered in a hurry, with Yates throwing long to Nicks. WVU’s Ellis Lankster deflected the ball, but Nicks still made the catch and dashed 73 yards for the score.
The tie didn’t last long. White’s 16-yard run for a first down was followed by a pass to the end zone that Arnett caught with one hand for the touchdown and the 14-7 lead.
“That was just making a play,” Arnett said. “The guy was right there and that was just Pat trusting me and me going and making a play.”
That lead lasted 14 seconds. On Carolina’s first play from scrimmage, Yates handed the ball to Arnold who then threw a pass to Nicks down the sideline and he ran 66 yards for another touchdown and the 14-14 tie. Casey Barth hit four extra points for the Tar Heels.
“(Nicks) a huge gamer. He reminds me of one of the fiercest competitors that I’ve ever been around and that is Michael Irvin,” said North Carolina second-year coach Butch Davis, a former coach at the University of Miami and with the Cleveland Browns. “Michael just bled to try to win, and that’s what Hakeem is all about.”
Once again, that lead soon disappeared, with a Devine 18-yard run followed by a 35-yard scoring pass from White to Bradley Starks.
Finally, a defensive stop came on North Carolina’s next possession, with West Virginia stuffing the Heels four times from the 2. However, the ‘Eers took over at its own 1 and Devine was tackled in the end zone for a safety to cut the margin to 21-16. North Carolina would score again on its ensuing possession to take a 23-21 lead into the break. That score came on a 25-yard touchdown pass from Yates to a wide-open Nicks in the end zone.
After West Virginia scored 2l points in the opening 12:25 of the opening quarter, they didn’t score again until a McAfee field goal with 9:00 left in the third period. North Carolina forced two turnovers, an interception in the end zone at the end of the first half by Deunta Williams, and Williams also recovered an Arnett fumble in the third.
North Carolina took its final lead with 4:29 left in the third on a four-yard plunge by Yates, who hit the pylon with the football to put the Tar Heels back on top. Once again, Nicks stepped up on that drive, catching a 21-yard pass. Draughn led the Heels with 65 yards on the ground.
However, in the fourth quarter, West Virginia’s offense scored the deciding touchdown, while its defense forced two punts, a fumble and an interception.
That the defense came through in the clutch wasn’t a surprise to White.
“I was confident in our defense,” White said. “They took care of it all year long, and I knew they weren’t going to let us down.”
It hasn't always been a smooth transition campaign in Stewart’s first season as the West Virginia coach. He was asked about the difficulty of it after the game, while White rolled his eyes and smiled, apparently in disbelief at the question.
“That’s opinions. I’ve had a pretty good year,” Stewart said. “Half of those people out there in that old Gold and Blue, they all love (Pat), about half of them would like to hang me, but I’m not mad at them.
“You know why, because I’m one of them. They have such a passion for West Virginia and football and all they want is for us to be the best and I want to be the best with them. It’s been a a good year, but it’s been a tough year.”
— Contact Brian Woodson at
West Virginia 31, North Carolina 30
West Virginia..................21 0 3 7 — 31
North Carolina...............14 9 7 0 — 30
WVU — Devine 18 run (McAfee kick), 8:56.
NC — Nicks 73 pass from Yates (Barth kick), 7:22.
WVU — Arnett 44 pass from P.White (McAfee kick), 5:11.
NC — Nicks 66 pass from Arnold (Barth kick), 4:57.
WVU — Starks 35 pass from P.White (McAfee kick), 2:35.
NC — Safety, 13:23.
NC — Nicks 25 pass from Yates (Barth kick), 10:37.
WVU — FG McAfee 25, 9:00.
NC — Yates 4 run (Barth kick), 4:29.
WVU — Arnett 20 pass from P.White (McAfee kick), 7:14.
First downs 20 15
Rushes-yards 42-123 29-93
Passing 332 277
Comp-Att-Int 26-32-1 16-26-1
Return Yards 13 0
Punts-Avg. 3-44.3 5-40.0
Fumbles-Lost 2-1 2-1
Penalties-Yards 1-10 4-37
Time of Possession 33:44 26:16
RUSHING—West Virginia, Devine 13-61, P.White 21-55, Sanders 3-10, Brown 1-2, Arnett 1-0, Team 3-(minus 5). North Carolina, Draughn 17-65, Little 3-34, Houston 4-4, Team 1-(minus 1), Yates 4-(minus 9).
PASSING—West Virginia, P.White 26-32-1-332. North Carolina, Yates 15-25-1-211, Arnold 1-1-0-66.
RECEIVING—West Virginia, Arnett 7-93, Sanders 5-70, Jalloh 5-36, Starks 4-61, Urban 2-42, Johnson 2-16, Devine 1-14. North Carolina, Nicks 8-217, Draughn 3-11, Little 2-36, Ri.Quinn 1-5, Arnold 1-4, Rome 1-4.
By BRIAN WOODSON
This Week's Circulars
3 p.m., at Mercer Funeral Home in Bluefield.
1 p.m., from the Burns Wornal Chapel of the Memorial Funeral Directory in Princeton. Burial will follow at the McManaway Family Cemetery, Pettry.
10 a.m., at Bailey-Kirk Funeral Home in Princeton. Interment will follow at Roselawn Memorial Gardens, Princeton.
2 p.m., at Peery & St. Clair Funeral Home in Tazewell, Va. Burial will follow at Pleasant Hill Cemetery, Thompson Valley, Va.
11 a.m., at the Mercer Funeral Home Chapel in Bluefield. Burial will follow at Roselawn Memorial Gardens.
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