It wasn’t a good weekend to be an East Carolina fan.
On Friday, the Pirates’ basketball team, filled with promise thanks to an almost complete overhaul of its roster, saw a strong effort turn into a 62-57 loss at Navy thanks to one ill-timed second half scoring drought. It was a hauntingly similar scenario to the way last year’s team — with all those different players — frequently got beat.
Less than 24 hours later, coach Mike Houston’s football team went down to Dallas and put on an entertaining show against No. 23 Southern Methodist. But in the end, it suffered a 59-51 defeat that was almost a carbon copy of last week’s heartbreaking setback to then-No. 17 Cincinnati.
They were a pair of losses that in at least one way of thinking, could legitimately be written off as an uncomfortable side effect of growing programs in the early stages of a building process.
The members of the basketball team, for instance, are still just getting to know one another both on the court and off and have yet to firmly establish roles or a solid chemistry.
And the football team had the misfortune of facing arguably the two best opponents on its schedule, veteran squads that already know to win. Certainly not the best of matchups for a team still struggling to get over the hump in a close game.
While all that is true, there comes a time in which extenuating circumstances such as matchups, inexperience, injuries and even just plain bad luck become nothing more than a crutch enabling the acceptance of performances that just aren’t good enough.
There comes a time when the call for patience becomes white noise, because regardless of how bright the future might be — and it is for both the Pirates football and basketball programs — it always seems as if the light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train.
That time has arrived.
ECU and its fans deserve better than what they’re getting.
Instead of patting teams on the back for making progress or showing heart or in the case of football over the past two weeks, for getting close against top competition, the school’s coaches, athletes, administrators and fans must begin holding their programs to a higher standard.
One that demands tangible results rather than just hope and promise.
This is especially true on the gridiron, where the Pirates haven’t simply been beaten by better teams over the past two weeks. Against Cincinnati and then again at SMU, they essentially beat themselves by making costly self-inflicted mental mistakes at the worst possible moments.
“We just can’t keep making the same mistakes,” a frustrated Houston told reporters after the game. “We’ve made tremendous strides, but we’ve got to win these games.
“It’s hard to win in this league,” the first-year coach continued. “We’ve got to correct the mistakes that are correctable.”
There are certain things that aren’t correctable. For them, the only answer is going out and recruiting better players — starting on defense. But until that can be done, a priority has to be placed on eliminating the silly little things that become catastrophic when a game is on the line.
Things such a quarterback not seeing a Cincinnati defender waiting to jump his receiver’s route in the flat with nothing but Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium turf between him and a game-changing pick six.
Or a breakdown in communication that caused teammates to play a game of “I got it, you take it” on a late kickoff, allowing SMU to recover and score a clinching touchdown.
It’s exciting to watch amazing feats of individual talent and celebrate performances that will live on for years in the ECU record books. And there have been more than a few of those over the past couple of weeks.
Celebrating wins, however, is a lot more fun.
Maybe next weekend will be better.