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Rutgers slows North Carolina in Quick Lane Bowl

DETROIT — North Carolina coach Larry Fedora knew that his team was going to have to play a very good game to beat Rutgers in the Quick Lane Bowl.

That didn’t happen, and the Tar Heels looked like the team that was blown out 35-7 by North Carolina State in its last game.

“I’m very disappointed with what we did in the last few games of the season, and especially in these last two,” Fedora said after the Tar Heels’ 40-21 loss Friday night at Ford Field. “We’re going to have to take a long look at some things.”

The final score was misleading. North Carolina (6-7) trailed 40-7 midway through the fourth quarter before a successful onside kick helped the Tar Heels add two late touchdowns.

“The game of football is pretty simple,” Fedora said. “If you give away the ball on offense, don’t force any turnovers on defense and make multiple game-changing mistakes on special teams, you aren’t going to win football games.”

Tar Heels quarterback Marquise Williams was never able to get going, although he did throw for one score and run for another.

“They did exactly what we expected them to do in every phase of the game,” Fedora said. “We just didn’t stop them.”

North Carolina’s biggest problem was freshman running back Josh Hicks, who ran for 202 yards and a touchdown.

“This is a childhood dream come true,” said Hicks, the MVP trophy sitting just above him in his locker. “It is just now hitting me what happened out there. Our O-line was just so good today — they were opening lanes, and all I had to do was hit them.

Senior Gary Nova threw for 184 yards and two touchdowns, and freshman Robert Martin ran for 100 yards and two scores to help the Scarlet Knights (8-5) cap their first Big Ten season.

“I saw the predictions before the season, so I knew what the public perception of our team was, especially going into the Big Ten,” Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said. “But I have always believed that this was going to be a competitive team that was going to play in the postseason, and we proved that all year.”

Owned and operated by the NFL’s Detroit Lions, the bowl replaced the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl, which had been played in Detroit under various names since 1997. The new bowl was hoped to make a bigger impact with a Big Ten vs. ACC matchup, but drew a disappointing crowd. The announced attendance was 23,876 — smaller than all but one Pizza Bowl — and the actual crowd appeared to be less than half of that.

“We knew this was going to be a challenge,” said Tom Lewand, president of both the Lions and the bowl. “When you partner with the Big Ten and the ACC, you know you will get some geographic diversity, and we knew there would be travel challenges for supporters around the holidays.”

Louisiana Tech 35, Illinois 18: At Dallas, Louisiana Tech’s Houston Bates had a career day against his former team — his 4 1-2 sacks in the Heart of Dallas Bowl matched the number he had in three seasons at Illinois.

Bates, who graduated and transferred to finish his eligibility closer to home was chosen MVP of the game after the Bulldogs beat the Illini.

“It wasn’t Houston Bates vs. Illinois. It was Louisiana Tech vs. Illinois,” Bates said.

Kenneth Dixon scored one of his two touchdowns on an 80-yard reception and Xavier Woods scored on a 69-yard interception. The Bulldogs (9-5) also got touchdown runs of 16 yards from Jarred Craft and 28 yards from Blake Martin on a dark, overcast day at the Cotton Bowl stadium.

Illinois (6-7) struggled early with penalties and missed field goals, but got within three points on David Reisner’s 43-yard field goal early in the fourth quarters. But Dixon scored his second TD from one yard out with six minutes left to make it 28-18 and the Illini couldn’t answer.

Illinois appeared to have gotten a break when LaKeith Walls sacked Cody Sokol, causing him to fumble. Jihad Ward returned it 19 yards before Dixon forced a fumble and Sokol recovered. That drive was capped by Dixon’s TD.

NC State 34, Central Florida 27: At St. Petersburg, Fla., Jacoby Brissett threw for 262 yards and one touchdown and Matt Dayes scored on runs of 24 and 15 yards to help North Carolina State beat Central Florida in the Bitcoin Bowl.

Brissett threw a 37-yard TD pass to Johnathan Alston to put the Wolfpack (8-5) ahead for good in the second quarter. Running back Shadrach Thornton got N.C. State going early with an 18-yard scoring pass to Jaylen Samuels.

UCF (9-4) began the night ranked in the top 10 in fewest yards allowed per game, as well as pass efficiency, rushing and scoring defense. But the co-champions of the American Athletic Conference had no answers for Brissett and a supporting cast that amassed 488 yards of total offense — over 200 more than opponents averaged against the Knights during the regular season.

Rutgers running back Josh Hicks holds the most valuable player trophy on Friday. AP PHOTO