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The last time East
Carolina played Appalachian State, a bevy of Pirates were carted off the
field with cramps and other heat related issues.
On Saturday, it was the
Mountaineers who were melting amid the sweltering September heat. As the
game wore on, more Mountaineers liquefied while the Pirates got
The difference this time
Pirates’ strength and
conditioning boss Jeff Connors.
Connors, who returned to
East Carolina last season after spending several seasons in Chapel Hill,
has made a huge difference since his return to Greenville. That was
evident Saturday by the late game posture of both the Pirates and
“I definitely think we did
wear their defense down,” Pirates receiver Andrew Bodenheimer said.
“They played us well at the beginning, but I think our conditioning from
this summer played a big part.
“We were in the heat all
summer. They got tired, and we just pushed through and that’s when we
started having some success in the third and fourth quarters.”
East Carolina outscored
Appalachian 21-3 in the second half and 14-0 in the fourth quarter.
Owning the final stanza was a major point of emphasis when Steve Logan
was the Pirates head coach, and Logan entrusted much of the heavy
lifting to Connors’ conditioning program.
The result was a program
that routinely wore down opponents.
If Saturday is any
indication, that could become a recurring theme, especially during games
where the talent level is comparable. Even against opponents that have
an unquestionable personnel advantage, losses are unlikely to come at
the expense of a roster that is physically spent.
Connors’ impact on the ECU
program both past and present has been an undeniable strength. The
longer he remains in Greenville, the better off the Pirates will be.
Pirates finally special
It shouldn’t require a
football PHD to determine Ruffin McNeill’s most significant offseason
acquisition. That easily is new special teams coordinator Kirk Doll.
Doll, a former Pirates
player, has completely transformed a unit that had been a glaring
weakness in recent years. It’s an area of the game where opponents have
routinely bested the Pirates of late.
This year, it looks as if
ECU has a pair of dynamic return specialists in Lance Ray and Justin
Hardy. Both demonstrated great vision, balance, patience, and cutting
ability during long returns against Appalachian State.
New punter Trent Tignor
averaged nearly 45 yards per kick, while both coverage units hindered
the Mountaineers' quest for room to operate.
If there was one special
teams concern following the Pirates’ win Saturday, it would have to be
placekicker Warren Harvey. While he demonstrated that he has plenty of
leg for long distance tries, his accuracy was lacking as he missed both
of his attempts.
Even so, special teams was
clearly one of the bright spots Saturday.
With a struggling offense,
seven-point lead, the ball on its own 20-yard line and one minute of
clock before intermission, slamming the ball between the tackles would
seem like the prudent approach.
Instead, East Carolina
offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley called for two passes and one run
before the Pirates were forced to punt. The result was plenty of time
for Appalachian to maneuver itself close enough to nail a field goal,
trimming the Pirates’ lead to 14-10 and sending the Mountaineers to the
locker room with momentum.
Given the Pirates’
physical superiority, there is no reason why they shouldn’t have been
able to deflate the football and drain the clock. The refusal to do so
cost East Carolina three points.