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The Daily Tar Heel

Tar Heels Slip Past Auburn

Quick hands righted the trophy, saving the Tar Heels from the embarrassment of breaking their shiny new trinket.

And thanks to the hands of North Carolina fullback Richard Moore, the Tar Heels were saved the embarrassment of blowing their Peach Bowl lead.

UNC defeated Auburn 16-10 on

Dec. 31 in front of a sellout crowd of 71,827 at the Georgia Dome. The Tar Heels (8-5, 5-3 in the ACC) struck a blow for their conference, giving the ACC its first Peach Bowl win since 1995, when Virginia topped Georgia 34-27.

North Carolina held a 16-3 lead in the fourth quarter when UNC punter John Lafferty bobbled the ball and Auburn's Travaris Robinson recovered it at the Tar Heels' 20-yard line.

Tigers backup quarterback Daniel Cobb made two quick completions, including a 12-yarder to tight end Lorenzo Diamond for Auburn's only touchdown. A Damon Duval extra point brought the Tigers within six and had them lining up for an onside kick.

Duval's kick went low, right into the hands of UNC's Moore, who fell on it, sealing the Tar Heels' win and allowing Bunting to breathe a sigh of relief.

"This game's never over till it's over," said Bunting, who joined former North Carolina coach Carl Torbush as the only first-year coaches to lead the Tar Heels to a bowl game. "It was our third situation with an onside kick this season. We're three for three. That doesn't always happen."

But it did, and Moore was able to prevent a dominating defensive performance from going down the drain.

From the first series, North Carolina's defense owned Auburn and starting quarterback Jason Campbell. UNC allowed the Tigers to gain nine yards on the ground on their first play, but then refused to let them move any farther. Three and out.

On Auburn's very next possession, the Tar Heel defense made things happen. Campbell passed to Tim Carter, who got hammered by UNC cornerback Michael Waddell, forcing a fumble. Tar Heel defensive end Joey Evans scooped it up and ran 18 yards before going out of bounds.

North Carolina tailback Willie Parker's 10-yard touchdown run on the following drive gave the Tar Heels a 7-0 lead. The TD with 9:34 remaining in the first quarter was just the beginning for Parker, who finished the night with 133 rushing yards.

Although Parker had the most yards on the ground, UNC quarterback Ronald Curry gained his yardage with the most style. In the third quarter, on a first and 10 on UNC's 38, Curry dropped back to pass. When Tiger defensive end Javor Mills broke free of the UNC offensive line and charged Curry, the quarterback ignored the intended screen pass and took off.

He danced left out of Mills' reach but cut right as he made his way up field. Auburn's Karlos Dansby got a hand on Curry, but Curry shook him off and scored a 62-yard touchdown.

"I lost steam back at the 30," said Curry of the play. "By the time I got my breath back I had already been back in the game and out again. It was a great run, and I had great blocking.

"Everyone was on the same page. It was like it was supposed to happen."

Although Curry would finish with only five more rushing yards and passed for just 25 yards on 5 of 6 attempts, he was selected Offensive MVP.

Curry said after the game he would talk to Bunting about his NFL prospects before making a decision about playing basketball for North Carolina. He said if playing basketball would hurt his professional football chances, he will not return to the court.

The other football player wondering about his basketball future, Julius Peppers, made six tackles and harassed Auburn's offensive line all night.

"He is everything and a little bit more," said Auburn left tackle Kendall Simmons. "Peppers is a great player. He has strength, speed and size and is a good athlete. I knew he would bring his 'A' game tonight, and he did. I tried the best I could."

But as Simmons would tell the media, North Carolina is more than Julius Peppers. Linemate Ryan Sims picked up the Defensive MVP award after a dominating night punctuated by a 19-yard sack of Campbell.

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Sims finished with six solo tackles and the sack. He limped out of the game in the second quarter with a bad ankle, but returned before the half ended.

"They're pretty good up front," said Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville. "They've got real good defensive linemen. When you've got defensive linemen like that, you've got a chance to win a lot of games."

The Sports Editor can be reached at sports@unc.edu.