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Curry redeemed in victory

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ATLANTA — Ronald Curry and Julius Peppers haven't decided if they'll play another season of basketball at North Carolina.

Auburn is just glad it won't have to see them again on the football field.

Curry ran for a 62-yard touchdown, while Peppers was part of a stifling defense that carried the Tar Heels to a 16-10 victory in the Peach Bowl on Monday night.

For Curry, who was named offensive MVP, it was a night of redemption after a career that didn't live up to the hype. He was ranked higher than Michael Vick coming out of high school, but wound up sharing the quarterback job as a senior.

"I don't want to say it's bittersweet," Curry said. "I've had my ups and down, but I wouldn't change it for all the glory in the world."

Auburn couldn't cope with North Carolina's front line, led by Peppers, an All-American, and Ryan Sims, the game's defensive MVP. The Tigers managed 176 yards — just 31 on the ground.

"It's hard to get past that front four," Tigers coach Tommy Tuberville said. "That's where it all starts."

Auburn's Kendall Simmons, an All-Southeastern Conference tackle, had trouble getting his hands on Peppers.

"He's everything I thought and a little bit more," Simmons said. "Speed, size and strength. I had problems with him all night."

Sims sacked Auburn quarterback Jason Campbell for a 19-yard loss in the fourth quarter.

"He's just as good a player as Peppers," Tuberville said. "We tried to double-team him at times, but he still got through."

Curry and Peppers have both played basketball for the Tar Heels. With each eyeing pro football careers, they've yet to decide about this season.

"If I told you yes now and you asked me again tomorrow, I might tell you no," said Peppers, expected to be a high pick in the NFL draft.

The victory ended a successful first season for coach John Bunting, who took North Carolina (8-5) to its first bowl since 1998.

The Tar Heels started the season 0-3, losing to Top 10 teams Oklahoma, Maryland and Texas. For Bunting, that was all part of the plan.

"Now we can play with the big boys," he said. "You play great teams so you can get better faster, so you can get in big games and win those games."

North Carolina built a 16-3 lead, but got a scare at the end. After the Tar Heels botched a punt, backup quarterback Daniel Cobb threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Lorenzo Diamond with 1:18 remaining.

Richard Moore recovered an onsides kick to seal North Carolina's victory.

After beating Georgia on Nov. 10, Auburn (7-5) needed only one victory in its last two regular-season games to play in the Southeastern Conference title game.

But the Tigers were blown out by Alabama (31-7) and LSU (27-14), forcing them to settle for a trip to Atlanta. The consolation bowl did little to soothe Auburn's wounds, sending them to the offseason with a three-game losing streak in which they were outscored 74-31.

"We didn't improve the way we should have," Tuberville said.

Auburn played as though it was the first game of the season, not the last.

One time, center Ben Nowland snapped the ball out of shotgun when Campbell wasn't looking, resulting in an 11-yard loss. The Tigers fumbled five times, though they recovered four of them.

With about eight minutes remaining, Campbell was knocked out of the game with a shoulder injury on a hit near the sideline by Dexter Reid.