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October 26, 2008CHAPEL HILL, N.C.(AP) Hakeem Nicks just knew he was going to have a big game. North Carolina didn't need much else to become bowl-eligible for the first time in four years.
Nicks had three second-quarter touchdown catches and ran for a score in the fourth to help the Tar Heels beat No. 23 Boston College 45-24 on Saturday, bouncing back from last week's road loss with what coach Butch Davis called "the most complete team game we've probably played" in his two seasons here.
Trimane Goddard added an interception return for a touchdown for the Tar Heels (6-2, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), who fell behind 10-0 in the first quarter before roaring back.
The Tar Heels also got a short touchdown run from Ryan Houston after a long interception return by Kendric Burney, who had two of the team's three picks of BC quarterback Chris Crane.
Everything started with Nicks, who provided the big-play threat missing since receiver Brandon Tate suffered a season-ending knee injury this month. He finished with eight catches for 139 yards - 127 coming in a 24-point second quarter - and 31 yards rushing, proving to be a matchup the Eagles (5-2, 2-2) had no answer for all day.
"I wouldn't say I put more pressure on myself," Nicks said of replacing Tate. "But I just know I had to step up and contribute the best way possible. Every time they called my name, I felt like I had to make a play."
Nicks came through quickly, turning a one-handed grab into a 26-yard touchdown for the Tar Heels' first score less than a minute into the second quarter. He followed Burney's first interception by getting behind the secondary for a 40-yard score and a 17-10 lead with 2:17 left in the half.
Then, after BC managed a quick drive to tie it with less than a minute left, Nicks caught a pass from Cameron Sexton over the middle, then broke to the right side for a 43-yard score for the 24-17 halftime lead.
Nicks said he told some of his teammates he would have a "career day." He didn't mention it to Sexton, though the quarterback already seemed to know.
"We can just look at each other and know," said Sexton, who threw for 238 yards. "I'll get a tap coming out of the huddle a lot from Hakeem. We just really have some kind of communication without words. I don't know how to describe it. I know he's going to be there. I trust him."
By the time Nicks added a 12-yard rushing score midway through the fourth quarter, the Tar Heels led 45-17.
"He is one of the unique, special guys that I've seen where the bigger the moment and the bigger the stage, the better he plays," Davis said.
The Tar Heels were ranked 18th before last week's overtime loss at Virginia - their 14th straight in Charlottesville - dropped them out of the rankings. They took their disappointment out on the Eagles, who entered the game with a four-game winning streak that had pushed them into a crowded group atop the league's Atlantic Division.
Boston College's defense got the Eagles off to a fast start, with Ron Brace sacking Sexton on North Carolina's third play and forcing a fumble that Kevin Akins scooped up and returned 13 yards for a 10-0 lead with 6:18 left in the opening period. But there were few highlights from there, as BC finished with 244 total yards behind a shaky performance from Crane.
"You're eligible every week, if you don't come and play your best, to get a butt-whipping," BC coach Jeff Jagodzinski said. "But we've got to come back from that."
North Carolina's defense entered the game tied for the national lead with 14 interceptions and among the leaders in turnover margin. Sexton's early fumble was North Carolina's only turnover, while the Tar Heels converted all three of Crane's interceptions into touchdowns.
Burney picked off Crane on the Eagles' first second-half possession and returned it to BC's 1 to set up Houston's score. Goddard essentially closed the door to start the fourth quarter, jumping in front of Brandon Robinson for the pick and going 51 yards for the score and a 38-17 lead.
Crane, saddled with the burden of replacing ACC player of the year and first-round NFL draft pick Matt Ryan, has thrown 12 interceptions.
"I wish I could have those throws back because I don't know what the game would have turned out to be, but it happened," said Crane, who finished with 204 yards and two TD passes. "I'm not sure if I went back if I would be able to see it. It's just things to learn from."
The Tar Heels' 24-point second quarter was the most they had scored in one period since a 35-point spurt at Duke eight years ago. It also marked the third time this season North Carolina has rallied from at least 10 points down to win.