December 24, 1998

Aztecs Let Las Vegas Bowl Blow Away, 20-13

Outstanding defense, inconsistent offense and a subpar kicking game equals loss.

LAS VEGAS (AP) - With strong winds grounding the passing game, North Carolina got a spark from the feet of freshman quarterback Ronald Curry to beat San Diego State 20-13 Saturday in the first major college bowl game of the season.

Curry's 48-yard run for a touchdown on the last play of the first quarter put the Tar Heels ahead for good in the Las Vegas Bowl, and North Carolina overcame a late fumble by Anthony Saunders to win a bowl game for the fourth straight season.

Keith Newman's interception of a pass tipped by Brandon Spoon on the goal line with 59 seconds left in the game sealed the win for the Tar Heels, who didn't score the entire second half.

Winds gusting to 48 mph raked Sam Boyd Stadium from the opening kickoff, turning any attempt to pass the football into an adventure.

SDSU wide receiver Jesus Reyes and North Carolina cornerback Dre 'Bly jump for a pass intended for Reyes in the fourth quarter.

North Carolina gained only 196 total yards and completed only four passes, but used Curry's run followed by a punt block for a touchdown to finish a season that began with three straight losses on a winning note.

After a flurry of early scoring, the game settled into a defensive struggle in the second half, with the Aztecs scoring the only points of the half on a field goal by Nate Tandberg with 3:51 left in the game.

North Carolina (7-5) got the ball back and appeared to have the game in hand when Saunders fumbled the ball on a carry up the middle and Joseph Tuipala picked the ball up and ran it to the North Carolina 22 with 1:29 left.

But, after getting a first down at the 11, Brian Russell threw a pass across the middle that was tipped up in the air by Spoon and into Newman's waiting hands.

Curry played only a total of four offensive series, but accounted for North Carolina's only offensive touchdown and put the team in position for one of its two field goals.

North Carolina's only other score came on a blocked punt by Quinton Savage that David Bomar fell on in the end zone early in the second quarter. The two-point conversion on a pass to Kory Bailey in the corner of the end zone with 12:41 left in the second quarter was the last score of the game by the Tar Heels.

Curry, a backup to senior Oscar Davenport, was the leading rusher in the game, running 10 times for 93 yards.

Curry and Davenport combined to only complete four passes for 33 yards in the game, while Russell completed 10 of 22 but only for a total of 99 yards.

San Diego State gambled after winning the opening coin flip, electing to go into the wind with the hopes that having the wind at their backs in the fourth quarter might be the deciding factor.

The gamble appeared to work after the Aztecs fumbled on the second play of the game, only to have wide receiver Lonny Mitchell pick up the loose ball and run 60 yards for a score.

But the Aztecs, playing in their first bowl game since 1991, could manage only two field goals the remainder of the game as North Carolina's defense and the wind combined to shut down the passing game.

The wind was so strong that a pair of pom pons went flying from the hands of San Diego State's cheerleaders in the fourth quarter, blowing down the field and drawing cheers from the crowd.

The game between the two unranked teams gave them identical 7-5 records after both began the season 0-3 and appeared unlikely to make postseason play.

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