It’s said that winning cures all ills.
And it does, even if only for a short time.
So take a deep cleansing breath, East Carolina fans. The Pirates have won a football game, on the road no less, against an American Athletic Conference rival — meaning that at least for the next few days they’re perched atop the East Division standings.
We all know that’s not likely to last. Sunday’s respite from the losing and despair was as much the product of a fortunate schedule change as it was some kind of magical awakening.
Coach Scottie Montgomery’s team still left too many receivers open and missed too many tackles on its way to giving up 596 yards to Connecticut and remaining dead last among the nation’s FBS teams in total defense. It came within a few feet wide right on a makeable last-second field goal attempt of squandering a 20-point second half lead and having to endure a nerve-wracking overtime with the momentum squarely in the Huskies’ favor.
But while many of the blemishes that contributed to three lopsided losses to begin the season were still visible to the naked eye, there were also a few faint glimmers of hope to be gleaned from the 41-38 victory in the sweltering early autumn sun.
Thomas Sirk, healthy again after spending a week in ECU’s concussion protocol, looked like the quarterback he was advertised to be when he was recruited as a graduate transfer from Duke. Though his stats were impressive enough, going 30 of 39 for 426 yards and three touchdowns, his most significant contribution was simply his ability to get the ball into the hands of his team’s most talented playmakers — receivers Davon Grayson, Trevon Brown and Quay Johnson.
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Sirk’s running ability also made a difference in a ground game that had been going nowhere fast until it arrived in East Hartford.
The solidly built quarterback gained only 31 yards on 14 carries. But the mere threat of him pulling the ball down and taking it himself helped open up running lanes that hadn’t previously been available for the committee of Derrell Scott, Hussein Howe, Tyshon Dye and Darius Pinnix. Together, the group accounted for the bulk of ECU’s season-high 170 rushing yards.
As encouraging as the breakout offensive performance was, it should be tempered by the fact that it came against a UConn team that was picked to finish behind the Pirates in the East Division — and clearly lived down to its preseason expectations. The 41 points scored by ECU were its most since its most recent previous victory, last October 29 against … you guessed it, those very same Huskies.
At this point, though, it doesn’t really matter who the opposition was. A program can’t get turned around without that first victory.
Whether Sunday’s win was the start of a slow climb back to respectability or just a momentary break from a free fall that has yet to hit rock bottom is still to be seen. The Pirates should, however, get a much more accurate read on which way they’re going this week when 18th-ranked South Florida, the AAC’s preseason favorite, pays a visit to Dowdy-Ficklen.
The 4-0 Bulls showed how dangerous they can be by forcing six turnovers in a 43-7 dismantling of Temple last Saturday. ECU will be hard-pressed to keep the game close.
But at least Montgomery and his players are in a better frame of mind as they prepare for a challenge every bit as daunting as the nonconference tests they failed against James Madison, West Virginia and Virginia Tech.
“Our guys have a lot of energy,” the second-year coach said Tuesday. “It’s always easier as a coach off of a victory and they are excited to see a very talented football team, one of the best teams in the country coming here and play against us, and a team that is definitely the most talented team in our conference.”
It would probably be too much to ask for the Pirates to build on Sunday’s encouraging performance with an upset win that keeps them at the top of the divisional standings.
But then anything is possible. Or at least that’s the way it seems when you finally get a win and all your ills are miraculously cured.
Even if only for a short time.