It’s a commonly held belief that if we set goals, work hard and never give up, we will eventually be rewarded for our effort.
The reality is that life doesn’t always give us the happy endings we dream about.
But when it does, it’s a wonder to behold.
Colby Gore had one of those moments Saturday.
The senior cornerback, more than anyone else on the East Carolina football roster, embodies the struggle the Pirates have endured over the past three seasons.
He’s survived the growing pains that come with being asked to play a major role before he was ready on a defense that was, at least statistically, the worst in the nation. He overcame a frightening injury that saw him carried from the field at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on a backboard after a helmet-to-helmet collision with an opposing player.
And earlier this year, he soldiered on and didn’t quit even after being suspended for the first two games of his senior season for an unspecified violation of team rules.
Saturday afternoon, on a chilly afternoon in East Hartford, CT, Gore finally got his reward for all that hardship by being in exactly the right place at the right time against soon-to-be-former American Athletic Conference rival Connecticut.
His interception at the goal line with one second remaining preserved a hard-earned 31-24 victory against the Huskies.
More importantly, it helped ECU finally break through the three-win barrier it has been stuck on for the past three seasons and show some tangible growth in its program under first-year coach Mike Houston.
While there were plenty of heroes to go around on a day that saw the Pirates avoid yet another late-game disappointment by bouncing right back for the go-ahead touchdown after UConn had rallied to tie earlier in the fourth quarter, the accomplishment of that elusive fourth win was made all the more special because of the young man fate selected to make the final clinching play.
“I was probably more excited than he was,” defensive end Kendall Futrell said of his fellow senior Gore.”It was a big win — fourth down, huge stop. I was just so happy for him.”
Happy doesn’t begin to describe the emotions of Gore as he cradled the pass from UConn’s Jack Zergiotis in his his arms and fell to the ground to keep from dropping it.
“(It was) a long time coming. That’s the first thing that crossed my mind,” he said in a postgame press conference. “Just being here at ECU with the changes made since Coach Houston got here … it was just a lot of joy. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that ecstatic. I was just ready to celebrate with my teammates and get win No. 4.”
Four wins, of course, is not normally something to get so excited about during the course of a 12-game season.
Someday, perhaps soon, it will become so commonplace at ECU that it will come and go with little to no special recognition.
In this case, though, that fourth victory — regardless of who it came against and how many losses preceded it — represents an important milestone in the building process Houston was hired to begin last December.
It’s a step forward the new coach said shouldn’t be underestimated in what it means to the Pirates, “especially the players that have been here.”
“The change in these kids from last December to right now is a 180,” Houston said. “The positive attitude, the unity, the way they care about each other. They try to do things right. It’s such a good locker room right now. We worked so hard to get there.
“But still, if you go 3-9 again, it makes people question and we’ve got to make sure the kids keep pushing forward. That’s why four (wins) is so significant. We want to be better. That’s the first thing they said in there: ‘Let’s get five.’ ”
There’s no guarantee that the Pirates will get that fifth win when they play their season finale against Tulsa on Saturday. But you can bet that they’ll work hard and won’t give up in pursuit of their newest goal.
And if they do accomplish it and finish what can already be considered a successful season on the ultimate high note, what a wonder to behold it will be.