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In the aftermath of East Carolina’s
narrow victory over Appalachian
State Saturday, the most discouraging detail wasn’t the small margin
that separated the teams.
It also wasn’t the fact that the Pirates held a commanding 22-point
advantage in the fourth quarter and nearly saw their entire lead
evaporate against a Football Championship Subdivision opponent.
The sight of several East Carolina players limping off the field and
later into the postgame press conference was troubling to say the least.
That’s because the source of those limps wasn’t damaged knees or ankles
— although truthfully that would have been worse — but rather cramps
that sent several key Pirates to the bench.
“You know what, as best as you try and simulate game situations and
physically exerting your body, you can never really do it to the extent
that you do it in the game,” senior tight end Rob Kass said. “As best as
we’ve trained all summer, being put in a game situation it just happened
to be the heat today.
“It was still a fairly mild day, but I guess we were physically exerting
ourselves out there. It just led to some cramping.”
The question is why the same didn’t occur with Appalachian State? The
Mountaineers aren’t accustomed to the Down East heat and take most of
their practice repetitions in comfortable 70-degree conditions.
They were playing under the same baking sun as the Pirates and with 22
fewer scholarship players. Yet it was the Mountaineers who looked fresh
in the fourth quarter and conditioned to play three or four more.
It was enough for Appalachian players to make the assessment that ECU’s
players appeared to be out of shape.
“We had some cramping issues on defense,” Pirates Coach Skip Holtz said.
“I can certainly see where someone would say that with the cramping
issues that we had. I don’t know how you prepare for cramping issues
because we’ve run more in this camp than we have in any other camps that
“We did get fatigued out there a little bit. I think there is such a big
drop off between our 1’s and our 2’s that I think coaches are very
hesitant to put some of the 2’s in the game as well.”
As the Pirates prepare to face deeper, more physically gifted rosters in
the coming weeks, they must resolve the hydration and cramping issues
they experienced against the smaller Mountaineers.
West Virginia and North Carolina will prove less forgiving if the
Pirates become crippled by cramps.
When bluntly asked if they became complacent after building a seemingly
insurmountable lead, several ECU players admitted so during postgame
The Pirates had a 24-0 lead over Appalachian State before the
Mountaineers could even move the chains. And when the final quarter
began, ECU still had a comfortable 29-7 advantage over an opponent that
should have wilted against a physically superior bunch.
But when ECU refused to tighten its grip on Appalachian’s neck, the
Mountaineers found life and nearly duplicated what they did in the Big
House against Michigan back in 2007.
“Last season, we didn’t really start fast in too many games,” senior
safety Van Eskridge said. “Today we came out, had a fast start and
jumped on them early. I think we kinda relaxed because we were playing
so well early.
“We always talk about that
'kill a fly with an axe' mentality. Go for the
jugular. If you’ve got a team down you’ve got to jump on them. You’ve
got to break their spirit while you can.”
The Pirates were unable to break App’s spirit partly because they lacked
the killer instinct to put an opponent away. The other reason was that
the Mountaineers refused to quit, which came as no surprise to ECU
punter Matt Dodge.
“I was telling everybody,
this isn’t going to be a blowout,” said Dodge, who transferred to ECU
from Appalachian. “These guys don’t know how to lose. They don’t know
how to give up.
“Them beating Michigan was not a fluke. Their coaching staff is too
good. I knew they were going to make the adjustments and they did. We
were lucky to come out with the win.”
Dodge-ing a bullet
Though Dodge punted more times than almost anyone expected, his right
leg provided some of the key moments in the Pirates’ narrow victory over
Twice Dodge pinned the Mountaineers inside the ten with well-placed
kicks. That flip in field position essentially led to two key scores —
an ECU touchdown and then a safety.
But it was his clutch punt with 1:35 remaining that ultimately sealed
the deal for the Pirates. Standing inside his own 30-yard line, Dodge
belted a booming 43-yard drive with enough hang time to force
Appalachian quarterback and return specialist Tavaris Cadet to signal
for a fair catch.
“That was a big relief,”
Dodge said. “I told God, ‘I’m going to do this one for you, and I knew
that He was with me. I had faith in Him.
“I tried to get it off as quick as I could. Luckily it was a good punt.”
It also served as a bit of redemption for Dodge, who mishit key punts
against Marshall and Kentucky last season. That was hardly the case
against his former school.