Kicking their Heels
North Carolina's defense sizzles in Peach Bowl winPosted: Monday December 31, 2001 11:48 PM
Updated: Tuesday January 01, 2002 12:23 AM
ATLANTA (AP) -- Ronald Curry's career at North Carolina didn't live up to the hype. He has no complaints about the way it ended Monday night.
Curry scrambled for a 62-yard touchdown and the Tar Heels kept Auburn out of the end zone for nearly 59 minutes, holding on for a 16-10 victory in the Peach Bowl.
Curry was ranked higher than Michael Vick coming out of high school but wound up sharing the quarterback job as a senior.
"I don't want to say it's bittersweet," Curry said. "Everything I've been through is a lesson. I've had my ups and down, but I wouldn't change it for all the glory in the world."
The victory ended a successful first season for coach John Bunting, who took North Carolina (8-5) to its first bowl since 1998.
"I'll never forget this football team," Bunting said. "This team is really, really special for me."
The Tar Heels started the season 0-3, losing to Top 10 teams Oklahoma, Maryland and Texas. For Bunting, that was all part of the plan.
"Now we can play with the big boys," he said. "You play great teams so you can get better faster, so you can get in big games like today and win those games."
North Carolina built a 16-0 lead but got a scare at the end. After the Tar Heels botched a punt, backup quarterback Daniel Cobb threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Lorenzo Diamond with 1:18 remaining.
Richard Moore recovered an onside kick to seal North Carolina's victory.
After beating Georgia on Nov. 10, Auburn (7-5) needed only one victory in its last two regular-season games to play in the Southeastern Conference title game.
It never happened. The Tigers were blown out by Alabama (31-7) and LSU (27-14), forcing them to settle for a belated trip to Atlanta. The consolation bowl did little to soothe Auburn's wounds, sending them to the offseason with a three-game losing streak in which they were outscored 74-31.
"We didn't improve the way we should have," coach Tommy Tuberville said. "It was a successful season, not a great season. Hey, we just lost a bowl game. There's a lot of people sitting home at home watching the bowls."
Auburn was held to 176 yards, with just 31 of those coming on the ground. Clearly, they missed freshman Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, who broke his shoulder blade in the next-to-last game of the regular season.
"You've got to be able to run against a team like that," Tuberville said. "For us, it was pretty much run for your life."
Ruffled by North Carolina's defensive front, led by All-American Julius Peppers and defensive MVP Ryan Sims, Auburn played as though it was the first game of the season, not the last.
One time, center Ben Nowland snapped the ball out of shotgun when quarterback Jason Campbell wasn't looking, resulting in an 11-yard loss. Campbell inexplicably picked up a delay of game on the first play of another possession, even though he came on the field with the play in hand. Campbell also was called for intentional grounding, costing the Tigers another 13 yards.
"You wonder how that can happen this late in the year," Tuberville said.
In the fourth quarter, Campbell was sacked for a 19-yard loss by Sims, then was knocked out of the game on a hit near the sideline by Dexter Reid. The quarterback sustained a bruised rotator cuff.
Curry stunned the Tigers in the third. He scrambled for a couple of first downs, then went all the way to the end zone on a broken play -- the longest run of his career.
"You just have to make something out of nothing," said Curry, the game's offensive MVP. "It seemed like it was supposed to happen: draw the defense to one side and run to the other."
He spun away from one would-be tackler and got strong downfield blocking from receiver Chesley Borders as he coasted across the goal line.
"I couldn't have done it without the blocking," Curry said. "I gave out at the 30."
Curry and Peppers have both played basketball at North Carolina. Neither has decided if he'll play this season.
"I'll make a decision in the next couple of days," Peppers said.
Appropriately, North Carolina's defense set up the game's first score. Receiver Tim Carter took a lateral pass from Campbell, but fumbled near the sideline on a hit by Michael Waddell. Joey Evans, a 264-pound end, picked up the ball and rumbled 18 yards to the Auburn 9.
Two plays later, Willie Parker streaked around right end for a 10-yard touchdown.
The only other burst of offense in the first half came on North Carolina's final possession. Parker found a huge hole up the middle and streaked to a 43-yard gain. Then, Darian Durant, North Carolina's other QB, tossed a quick pass to Sam Aiken, who zigged and zagged to a 41-yard gain.
With first-and-goal from the Auburn 3, the Tar Heels stalled. Jeff Reed made it 10-0 with his short field goal.
The game, sponsored by Chick-fil-A, was technically a sellout for the fifth year in a row. But there were thousands of empty seats in Auburn's end of the Georgia Dome for the final game of 2001.
Each team was allotted 20,000 tickets in the 71,000-seat stadium.