With a 6-5 record in the regular season, North Carolina knew it was fortunate to be in a bowl game.
The Tar Heels (7-5) showed Saturday night the invitation was no mistake by breaking three Carquest Bowl records in a 20-10 victory over Arkansas at Joe Robbie Stadium.
"This is for everyone who thought we shouldn't be here: 'Hey, we won the game. So there,' " said Carolina defensive tackle Marcus Jones, who had five tackles and a sack.
L.C. Stevens caught an 87-yard scoring pass, the longest in Carquest Bowl history, with 4:08 left in the third quarter to break the game open.
Stevens caught the pass from Mike Thomas near the 36 and shook off Tracy Cantlope as he made his way into the end zone.
"I gave a good burst and gave him a good stiff arm," said Stevens, who broke the previous bowl record of 78 yards by Clarence Cannon of Boston College in 1994.
Carolina tailback Leon Johnson also set a bowl record with 195 rushing yards and was named the game's most valuable player. The previous rushing record was 132 yards by West Virginia's Robert Walker in last year's game.
"I'm just proud of myself. I'm proud of my team and our line," Johnson said. "We overcame a lot of adversity tonight."
He had 29 rushes for 195 yards, breaking the record for rushing attempts set at 26 by Siran Stacy of Alabama on Dec. 28, 1991.
Johnson's 28-yard touchdown run in the third quarter made the score 14-10. Thomas ran three yards, then pitched the ball to Johnson at the 25. He made it into the end zone to cap a nine-play, 65-yard drive.
Thomas, making his third bowl start, was 10 for 23 for 177 yards.
"When something bad happens to our football team . . . we don't know how to handle it," Arkansas Coach Danny Ford said. "It really took a lot out of our sail when they went ahead of us."
Arkansas (8-5) made its first bowl appearance since 1991. The Razorbacks have lost their last six bowl games.