“I’m not an English major, but I think ‘fantastic’ would maybe describe it,” UNC head coach Butch Davis said about Nicks’ performance. “He is one of the unique special guys that I’ve seen that the bigger the moment and the bigger the stage, the better he plays. He is such a fierce warrior. He just competes and plays, and he catches the ball so well.”
The junior did most of his damage in the second quarter, helping North Carolina (6-2, 2-2 ACC) overcome an early 10-0 deficit. Nicks scored in a variety of ways, captivating the Kenan Stadium crowd with a one-handed circus catch on a 26-yard touchdown, outrunning the Eagles’ defense on a 40-yard scoring strike from Cam Sexton and then maneuvering his way through the secondary for a 43-yard touchdown – all of which occurred in the second stanza.
“I felt a big game when I woke up,” said Nicks, who caught 8 passes for 139 yards and three touchdowns. “I even told my teammates before the game started that I felt like I was going to have a career day. So I just went out there and contributed to the team the best way possible and that’s what happened.”
The Charlotte, N.C. native is now second in UNC history in receiving yardage with 2,400 – trailing Corey Holliday by 47 yards – and ranks third in touchdown receptions (16) and receptions (160). Nicks also added 31 yards and a touchdown on three carries to his personal box score.
Sexton completed 19 of his 30 passes for 238 yards and three touchdowns, and Shaun Draughn added 64 yards on 18 carries, as the North Carolina offense racked up 352 total yards and 19 first downs.
Nicks’ three scores allowed North Carolina to build a 24-17 halftime lead, providing more than enough firepower for the ever-opportunistic Tar Heel defense.
Cornerback Kendric Burney returned his second interception in Boston College territory a dazzling 37 yards, weaving through traffic while breaking tackles before being dragged down just shy of the goal line, leaving Ryan Houston to clean up with a 1-yard touchdown run.
And not to be outdone by his younger teammate, senior safety Trimane Goddard intercepted Boston College quarterback Chris Crane’s first pass of the fourth quarter and raced 51 yards for another UNC score, boosting its lead to 38-17. The interception was Goddard’s fifth – and North Carolina’s 17th – of the season.
“Certainly through last season’s 12 games and this season’s eight games, today was probably the most complete team game that we’ve probably played,” Davis said.
The Tar Heels forced three turnovers on Saturday, while allowing just one on a Sexton fumble in the first quarter was that was recovered by Kevin Akins for a 13-yard touchdown. North Carolina now has 21 takeaways on the season, contributing to a plus-10 turnover margin.
Crane (28-of-42 passing, 204 yards, 2 TD, 3 INT) led scoring drives to open and close the first half – the first resulting in a 35-yard field goal and the second ending with a 9-yard touchdown completion to Justin Jarvis – but the Eagles (5-2, 2-2 ACC) struggled to find much production on offense.
Offensive coordinator Steve Logan’s unit garnered just 244 yards of offense, including just 40 on the ground. That marks the fewest rushing yards allowed by North Carolina since holding N.C. State to 13 in 2005.
Crane finished the contest’s scoring with a 4-yard pass to Ifeanyi Momah with 2:04 remaining in regulation.
For the Tar Heels, this victory means that for the first time since 2004, they are bowl eligible.
“It’s a feeling that I haven’t been able to feel for four years,” said senior linebacker Mark Paschal, who led the Tar Heels with 10 tackles. “It’s really exciting. I know I was a little upset last week, but I can tell you right now, I’m thrilled to be 6-2. We’ve got a four-game schedule ahead of us, so we’re going to try to make the most out of these last four games.”
But Davis brushed off a question about his team qualifying for the postseason.
“It just means we’ve won six,” Davis said. “I promise you no one on this football team set out with the goal [to be bowl eligible]. The goal wasn’t six – ever.”
North Carolina will now enjoy its final bye of the season next week, before Georgia Tech rolls into Chapel Hill on Nov. 8.