CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- During four record-breaking seasons at West Virginia, Pat White made comeback victories and bowl wins routine.
His grand finale, though, was unique. The most prolific running quarterback in college football history had the best passing game of his career, cementing his status as one of the best players in school history and perhaps showing he can take his game to the NFL, too.
White threw for 332 yards in his final college game, including the game-winning 20-yard touchdown pass to Alric Arnett midway through the fourth quarter in West Virginia's 31-30 victory over North Carolina on Saturday in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
The senior was voted MVP of a bowl for the third straight year and finished 4-0 in postseason games, helping West Virginia (9-4) end a disappointing season on a positive note.
"I'm sitting by the greatest winner in college football today," West Virginia coach Bill Stewart said of White. "He's the greatest to ever wear the old gold and blue. It's a fitting tribute that this man's the MVP."
It took a great performance to beat out Hakeem Nicks, who caught eight passes for 217 yards and three touchdowns for the Tar Heels (8-5). But T.J. Yates' otherwise strong game was marred when he was intercepted by Pat Lazear with under 2 minutes left, ending coach Butch Davis' hopes of a bowl win to complete his turnaround season at North Carolina.
"It's disappointing to lose this game, but I'm very proud of this football team and the strides we've made," said Davis, whose team was 4-8 last year and playing in their first bowl since 2004.
As Davis spoke, Stewart was leading the crowd in cheers in a sweet ending to a tumultuous season for the much-maligned replacement for Rich Rodriguez.
Entering the season as prohibitive favorites to win the Big East, the Mountaineers started 1-2. They recovered to win five straight, only to go 2-2 over their final four games to end their BCS bowl hopes.
White made sure they went out a winner.
"Half those people out there in the old gold and blue, they all love him," Stewart said, looking at White. "But half of them would like to hang me. ... But I'm not mad. They have such a passion in West Virginia. All they want us to do is be the best."
North Carolina routinely put eight men on the line of scrimmage to stop the NCAA's all-time leading rushing quarterback. White was held to 55 yards rushing, finishing with 4,480 in his career.
Facing questions about whether he can be an NFL quarterback, White made a strong case. He completed 26 of 32 passes with three touchdowns, one interception, and a clutch fourth-quarter drive.
After West Virginia's J.T. Thomas recovered Shaun Draughn's fumble at the Mountaineers 30, White threw a 41-yard pass over the middle to Jock Sanders, picked up nine yards on a running play and then rifled a pass between two defenders to Arnett for the go-ahead touchdown with 7:14 left.
"Knowing that this is the last time I'm going to put on this uniform, I definitely wanted to go out on top," White said. "We accomplished that."
The comeback spoiled a remarkable day by Nicks, a junior who could turn pro.
The Mountaineers were missing starting defensive backs Brandon Hogan and Sidney Glover to injuries and illness. The 6-foot-1 Nicks, playing in his hometown, responded by setting three school receiving records and shattering his career-high in yards receiving -- before the game was 20 minutes old. It was part of a dizzying offensive display by both teams that had six touchdowns on the board with 10:37 left in the second quarter.
"I told the defensive coaches, 'My God, we have nobody that can cover him,' " Stewart said.
Nicks' circus catch midway through the third quarter appeared to put the Tar Heels in good shape.
Yates threw a pass behind Nicks on a crossing pattern. Nicks reached back and clutched the ball with his left hand, moved it behind his back and grabbed it with his right hand on the other side of his body for an 8-yard gain. That set up Yates' 4-yard scramble to give North Carolina a 30-24 lead.
"I just wanted to go out in front of my home crowd and pursue the game plan," Nicks said.
Nicks caught three TD passes in the first half, and his first will rival his behind-the-back catch for YouTube hits.
Yates' deep heave over the middle was underthrown and nearly intercepted by Ellis Lankster, but the ball went through his hands and Nicks caught it behind him, then started to celebrate about 15 yards shy of the end zone. That allowed Keith Tandy to catch up, but Nicks wrestled away from him for the 73-yard touchdown.
White was doing his best to keep up in a game that didn't have an incomplete pass or punt until midway through the second quarter.
White completed 14 of his first 15 passes and threw two first-half touchdowns, including a remarkable one-handed grab by Arnett for a 44-yard score. But White was intercepted in the end zone at the end of the first half by Deunta Williams, who had earlier tackled Noel Devine in the end zone for a safety.
Williams later recovered a fumble, but it wasn't enough for North Carolina. Just too much White.
According to the West Virginia sports information staff, White is believed to be the first quarterback in college football to start four bowl victories.
"He was on target on everything," Arnett said. "That's the type of player he is. He's going to make a play with his arm or with his legs."