WV QB Pat White showed he had one more dazzling comeback in him before finishing his record-breaking college career.
White threw for 332 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown pass to Alric Arnett midway through the fourth quarter that put his team on top for good.The senior quarterback was voted MVP of a bowl for the third straight year and finished 4-0 in postseason games, helping West Virginia (9-4) overcome Hakeem Nicks' big day for North Carolina to end a disappointing season on a positive note.
Nicks caught eight passes for 217 yards and three touchdowns for the Tar Heels (8-5), but T.J. Yates was intercepted by Pat Lazear with under 2 minutes left to end Butch Davis' hopes of a bowl win in his second year at North Carolina.
Instead, it was a sweet ending to a tumultuous season for first-year West Virginia coach Bill Stewart.
Entering the season as prohibitive favorite to win the Big East, the Mountaineers started 1-2. They recovered to win five straight, only to go 2-2 over their final four games to end their BCS bowl hopes.
But White made sure they went out a winner, again. He completed 26 of 32 passes and threw one interception. The NCAA's all-time leading rushing quarterback added 55 more yards on the ground to finish with 4,480.
And while there are questions about whether White can play quarterback in the NFL, he was dominant when he needed to be Saturday.
After J.T. Thomas recovered Shaun Draughn's fumble at the West Virginia 30, White threw a 41-yard pass over the middle to Jock Sanders, picked up nine yards on a running play and then rifled a pass between two defenders to Arnett for the go-ahead touchdown with 7:14 left.
Yates couldn't find the dynamic Nicks on the Tar Heels' final drive, eventually throwing his first interception of the game.
The comeback spoiled a remarkable day by Nicks that left NFL scouts drooling as the junior contemplates whether to turn pro after this season.
The Mountaineers were missing starting defensive backs Brandon Hogan and Sidney Glover to injuries and illness, leaving an inexperienced group to try to keep up with the 6-foot-1 Nicks.
He'd already set three school receiving records and shattered his career-high in yards receiving -- with 10:37 left in the second quarter. It was part of a dizzying offensive display by both teams that produced six touchdowns in the game's first 20 minutes.
Nicks' first TD was the most bizarre. Yates' deep heave over the middle was underthrown and nearly intercepted by Ellis Lankster, but the ball went through his hands and Nicks caught it behind him, then started to celebrate about 15 yards shy of the end zone. That allowed Keith Tandy to catch up, but Nicks wrestled away from him for the 73-yard touchdown, his school-record 10th of the season.
Three minutes later, Nicks caught a 66-yard touchdown pass from receiver Cooter Arnold on a trick play, setting North Carolina's career TD record with his 20th.
Nicks' 25-yard TD catch from Yates early in the second quarter was his 178th career reception -- another school record -- and gave North Carolina a 23-21 lead.
White was doing his best to keep up in a game that didn't have an incomplete pass or punt until midway through the second quarter. White completed 14 of his first 15 passes and threw two first-half touchdowns, including a remarkable one-handed grab by Arnett for a 44-yard score. But White was intercepted in the end zone at the end of the first half by Duenta Williams, who had earlier tackled Noel Devine in the end zone for a safety.
The action thrilled a sellout crowd at Bank of America Stadium that included thousands of West Virginia fans despite North Carolina being only two hours from campus.