DETROIT (AP) — Josh Hicks and the Rutgers Scarlet Knights capped their first season in the Big Ten with a dominating effort in the inaugural Quick Lane Bowl.
The freshman running back rushed for 202 yards and a touchdown and Rutgers beat North Carolina 40-21 on Friday night at Ford Field.
"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 for the Scarlet Knights (8-5).
"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."
Flood, the brother of a New York Police Department officer, wore an "NYPD" cap during the game, as did many of his assistant coaches and support personnel. Some Rutgers fans also wore them.
"We're here doing this, and my brother is going to two funerals in the next couple days," said Flood, who has several other relatives who have worked for the department. "I wanted to show our program's support for them, because that's a very special relationship for us."
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."
Rutgers led 40-7 before the Tar Heels (6-7) scored twice in the final 7 minutes. North Carolina also had two second-half touchdown passes taken away because of interference penalties.
"The game of football is pretty simple," Tar Heels coach Larry 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."
North Carolina 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."
The Scarlet Knights lost the coin toss, but got the ball when North Carolina deferred. They only needed 2:17 to take the lead, with Nova hitting a wide-open Andre Patton for a 34-yard touchdown strike.
North Carolina got into Rutgers' territory its first two drives, but turned the ball over on the first and punted on the second. The Tar Heels blocking a punt to take over at the 30, but the drive stalled at the 5 and a fake field goal was buried for a 4-yard loss.
The Scarlet Knights answered with a 91-yard drive that ended with Hicks' 21-yard run that made it 14-0 early in the second. Rutgers then turned another Tar Heels fumble into a quick touchdown — Martin's 8-yard run — but missed the extra point, leaving it 20-0.
The Tar Heels missed a field goal, then shanked a punt 20 yards, allowing Rutgers to kick a 19-yard field goal that made it 23-0 at halftime.
Williams got North Carolina on the board with a 1-yard run, but the Scarlet Knights came back with a 34-yard pass from Nova to Andrew Turzilli to make it 30-7. Martin's second touchdown run — this one from 28 yards — gave Rutgers a 30-point advantage early in the fourth.