Curry's TD run helps Tar Heels run to fourth straight bowl win
Posted: Saturday January 09, 1999 07:41 PM
LAS VEGAS (CNN/SI) -- After barely finishing the regular season over .500, it was expected that hot-shot freshman quarterback Ronald Curry would start seeing plenty of playing time on the North Carolina basketball team. Instead, the Heels were surprisingly invited to the Las Vegas Bowl and Curry would still get orders from Carl Torbush instead of Bill Guthridge.
Torbush was definitely glad to see Curry on the gridiron. And even more fortunate, he should be seeing the young man for years to come lighting up the ACC.
Curry's 48-yard run for a touchdown on the final play of the first quarter put the Tar Heels ahead for good, and North Carolina held on in a windswept game to beat San Diego State 20-13 in the first major college bowl game of the season.
"He's a phenomenal athlete. There's no other way to put it," said San Diego State coach Ted Tollner.
With North Carolina's passing game grounded by winds gusting to 48 mph, Curry rushed for 93 yards and made a critical first down late in the game, with an ineffective Oscar Davenport on the bench and the fate of the Tar Heels in his hands.
For good measure, Curry then added a possible game saving tackle on the 22-yard-line after Anthony Saunders fumbled the ball and Joseph Tuipala picked it up and was heading toward the end zone with 1:29 left in the game.
"I was just hoping he would fall over before he got to me," Curry said.
The fumble gave San Diego State a final chance to tie or win, but Keith Newman caught a pass tipped by teammate Brandon Spoon on the goal line to preserve the win with 59 seconds left.
"This is as tough of a win as I have ever been around," said North Carolina coach Carl Torbush.
North Carolina's last score came less than three minutes into the second quarter, but the Tar Heels defense held the Aztecs to only a fourth quarter field goal to hang on to the win.
"The wind was a tremendous factor," Tollner said. "We had to try to speed things up when the wind was at our back and slow it down when it was in our face."
The punting of Brian Schmitz played a big part in the wind, with Schmitz putting the ball inside the San Diego State 10-yard line on three different occasions. Schmitz punted five times for a 44 yard average, while San Diego State had seven punts for a 24.1 yard average.
"I would have voted for Brian Schmitz for MVP," Torbush said. "We won the kicking game. Everything else was balanced in a lot of ways."
The win was the fourth straight in a bowl game for North Carolina, which salvaged a 7-5 season after beginning the year 0-3. San Diego State also finished 7-5 after starting 0-3.
North Carolina gained only 196 total yards and completed only four passes, but used Curry's run followed by a punt block for a touchdown to finish the season on a winning note.
"It was going to be a pass play," Curry said. "The receivers were covered and I just took off with the ball."
After a flurry of early scoring, the game settled into a defensive struggle in the second half, with the Aztecs scoring the only points of the half on a field goal by Nate Tandberg with 3:51 left in the game.
North Carolina got the ball back and appeared to have the game in hand when Saunders fumbled the ball on a carry up the middle and Tuipala picked the ball up and ran it to the North Carolina 22 with 1:29 left.
But, after getting a first down at the 11, Brian Russell threw a pass across the middle that was tipped up in the air by Spoon and into Newman's waiting hands.
Curry played only a total of four offensive series, but accounted for North Carolina's only offensive touchdown and put the team in position for one of its two field goals.
North Carolina's only other score came on a blocked punt by Quinton Savage that David Bomar fell on in the end zone early in the second quarter. The two-point conversion on a pass to Kory Bailey in the corner of the end zone with 12:41 left in the second quarter was the last score by the Tar Heels.
Curry and Davenport combined to only complete four passes for 33 yards in the game, while Russell completed 10 of 22 but only for a total of 99 yards.
San Diego State scored on the second play of the game, when the ball came loose during an exchange and wide receiver Lonny Mitchell picked up the loose ball and run 60 yards for a score.
But the Aztecs, playing in their first bowl game since 1991, could manage only two field goals the remainder of the game as North Carolina's defense and the wind combined to shut down the passing game.
The wind was so strong that a pair of pom pons went flying from the hands of San Diego State's cheerleaders in the fourth quarter, blowing down the field and drawing cheers from the crowd.
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