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October 25, 2008

Nicks' four scores helps Heels rout Eagles

CHAPEL HILL - If this whole wide receiver thing doesn't work out for Hakeem Nicks, it looks like he could probably pursue a career as a psychic.

"I told the team in practice, during the walk-through, that I felt like I was going to have a career day," Nicks said.


The fact that he was dead-on means he probably won't need that backup career after all. The junior had eight catches for 139 yards, rushed for 31 more and scored a career-high four touchdowns to help North Carolina rout No. 23 Boston College 45-24.

But Nicks wasn't alone in getting the Tar Heels (6-2, 2-2 in the ACC) past the Eagles (5-2, 2-2) and, more importantly, bowl-eligible for the first time since 2004.

The Carolina defense intercepted Boston College quarterback Chris Crane three times in the second half and held the Eagles to 40 rushing yards in the game.

UNC coach Butch Davis said afterward that in his time here, the win "was probably the most complete team game that we've played."

Nicks scored all three of his receiving touchdowns in the second quarter to erase an early 10-point deficit.

His final score came on a 12-yard run with seven minutes remaining that put the Tar Heels up 45-17.

"I'm not an English major, but I think 'fantastic' would describe it," Davis said of Nicks' career day. "He's just a very, very, very good football player."

In between Nicks' scoring, it was the UNC defense's turn to make an impact on the scoreboard.

The Heels' first two touchdowns of the second half came as a direct result of interceptions.

First, cornerback Kendric Burney's second interception of the day ended with a wild 37-yard return that brought him within inches of the Boston College goal line and set up a 1-yard Ryan Houston touchdown.

Then Trimane Goddard picked off Crane and took the ball 51 yards to the house for a 38-17 lead.

It was the Tar Heels' fourth interception return for touchdown this season, setting a school record.

"Ever since training camp, we've said that we want to lead the nation in interceptions," Burney said.

Carolina started the game in a 10-point hole, thanks to a fumble by quarterback Cam Sexton that Boston College cornerback Kevin Akins returned for a touchdown on UNC's first offensive series.

But instead of letting the turnover get him down - or let it remind him of the turnover problems a week earlier in the loss at Virginia - Sexton got motivated by the strip-sack.

"I felt good after that fumble," said Sexton, who finished 19 for 30 for 238 yards. "It pissed me off, and I kind of said, 'That's enough.'"

Sexton's first response was a 26-yard touchdown pass to Nicks, who made a one-handed catch and then bounced off two potential tacklers to sneak into the end zone.

The second was a perfect deep ball from Sexton that Nicks hauled in for a 40-yard touchdown two minutes before halftime to make it 17-10. That score was set up by Burney's first interception of the day.

Nicks was even able to overcome UNC's continued end-of-half troubles on defense with his third touchdown of the day.

After the defense allowed Boston College to drive 67 yards on six plays in 1:23 to tie the game at 17, the Tar Heels answered with a 43-yard touchdown from Sexton to Nicks to make it 24-17 going into the break.

The 24 points in the second quarter were the most for North Carolina in a quarter since 2000 and a more-than-adequate answer to falling behind early.

It was the third time this year the Tar Heels have come back to win after trailing by 10 or more points.

"Games are never really won in the first three or four minutes," Davis said. "You've got to persevere. We never felt like we didn't have a grasp on what we wanted to do, so we had to stay positive."

Without that attitude, Nicks and the Tar Heels never would have had the kind of day they did.

Based on this performance, it doesn't take Nicks' powers of prognostication to guess that the Tar Heels probably won't stop winning just because they're eligible for postseason play.

"It's great to know," Nicks said, "but I know we still want more."


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