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Game No. 7: East Carolina 37, Marshall 10


Inside Game Day
Saturday, October 23, 2010

By Al Myatt

Blacknall effective upon return

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

GREENVILLE — This has been an interesting and unusual three weeks for East Carolina junior free safety Derek Blacknall.

The Greensboro Dudley graduate got a one-game suspension from Conference USA after his helmet-to-helmet hit on Quentin Pierce of Southern Miss in the fourth quarter of ECU's 44-43 win in Hattiesburg on Oct. 9. The blow left Pierce with symptoms of a concussion. It was the type of collision the NFL put a $75,000 fine on this week.

The suspension didn't permit Blacknall to attend the 33-27 overtime win over N.C. State last week. Blacknall's back-up, true freshman Damon Magazu, made the game-ending interception of the Wolfpack's Russell Wilson.

"It felt like watching your little brother in a heavyweight fight and you couldn't do nothing about it," Blacknall said of his role in the State game. "All I could do was cheer my team on and that's exactly what I did."

Blacknall watched the game at a restaurant in Greenville.

"There were some State fans in there," he said. "The atmosphere was crazy."

Blacknall watched his backup intently.

"The whole game I had confidence in Magazu because he showed us he could do it all during preseason camp," Blacknall said. "I wasn't worried. I felt like I was out there."

Blacknall had a premonition on the last play of the State game.

"I knew the coverage was in because I could tell by the alignment of the linebacker and the safety," he said. "When Russell Wilson threw it, I just had confidence that Magazu was either going to get a pass break-up or a pick and he came out with a pick."

Having to sit out kept Blacknall from taking Saturday's game with Marshall for granted.

"Anytime you sit out of something you love, that makes you appreciate it that much more," he said.

Blacknall said he wasn't intending to make a statement about matching Southern Miss' physical style of play when he hit Pierce. Blacknall lost his helmet in the impact.

"It was a physical play, but that's how we play," he said. "That's what we do."

His headhunting jolt of Pierce is the type of hit that the NFL is seeking to eliminate.

"I feel like they're trying to make it a more safer league," Blacknall said. "But the guys on defense — that's the way we've been taught since day one. I guess the rules change. We've just got to adjust to 'em."

Blacknall paid his debt to C-USA. He was credited with three solo tackles and two assists in addition to a game-changing pick in the Pirates' 37-10 victory over Marshall on Saturday.

"It felt good to be out there with the team, with the boys and enjoying the environment," Blacknall said after the Homecoming win.

Although Blacknall was absent from ECU's win over its nearest ACC rival, he heard plenty about avoiding a letdown against the Thundering Herd.

"The coaches and players have been harping all week — 'Don't sleep on Marshall,' " he said. "After watching film of Marshall all week, we knew these guys could play and they were better than what their record (now 1-6 overall, 0-3 C-USA) said."

Blacknall's film study put him in the right place at the right time for a crucial interception that turned momentum in the Marshall game in ECU's favor. With the score tied at 10 with under four minutes left in the first half, the Herd lined up three receivers in a column on the left side. It was a second-and-four play from the Marshall 46-yard line.

"They ran stack," Blacknall said. "It was the same play we had been drilling on all week. I saw two go flat. We were in a cover two. Number one went vertical and ran the out and I was right there sitting on it."

Blacknall followed the eyes of Marshall quarterback Brian Anderson and made the pick along the Herd sideline. He went out of bounds at the ECU 42, getting credit for a 4-yard return. Seven plays later, the Pirates went ahead to stay on a 29-yard scoring run by Jonathan WIlliams, who rushed for 111 yards on just 10 carries.

"A victory like that feels good," Blacknall said. "I wouldn't necessarily say it was an easy win. Those Marshall guys are on scholarship just like we are. Anytime you win a conference game, it's an overwhelming feeling because you're that much closer to achieving your goal."

The offense had 455 total yards as Dominique Davis completed 23 of 39 passes for 208 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. ECU's defense allowed an opponent the fewest points in seven games this season, holding the Herd scoreless in the second half.

"It was another week of improvement for the defense," Blacknall said after the Pirates upped their record to 5-2 overall and 4-0 in C-USA. "Our offense was clicking like they always do. Overall, I feel like it was a great team win. Offense clicking, defense played lights out and special teams got after 'em."

Mike Barbour kicked three field goals and Ben Ryan averaged 42 yards on three punts.

The Pirates travel to Central Florida for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff on Saturday. The Knights are 5-2 overall and 3-0 in C-USA.

"We're just taking it game by game," Blacknall said. "The only reason we're looking at UCF is because they're next. We've got to be ready. We have a great opponent in UCF. (Sunday) we've got to get in here, enjoy this victory for 24 hours. We'll get in here and watch film and get ready for UCF."

This has been a season of adjustment for the ECU program — most of it successful to this point. Blacknall was recruited by Skip Holtz's staff.

"When Holtz left (for South Florida), I had already been here for three years," Blacknall said. "It felt like a father figure leaving in a divorce, but us guys we just stuck together. We were just willing to work and do whatever for the next coach."

Former Pirate defensive back Ruffin McNeill was soon on the job as the program's new daddy.

"I love him," Blacknall said. "I love him. With Holtz, you had more of a business-type atmosphere but here (with McNeill), it's more family-oriented. You can go talk to any of the players and coaches. It's just more family oriented."

The new Pirate family needs a solid week of practice as it prepares for the showdown with the Knights.

"As long as we have the same week of practice that we had last week, then I feel like it should be a good game," Blacknall said. "I feel like those guys at Central Florida, they're tough. They're physical, they're a good football team and they're fast. We've just got to come out there and take it one play at a time."

UCF represents another opportunity for the ECU defense to improve.

"We just look at each week as another opportunity to get better and I feel like that's what we have been doing," Blacknall said. "Every week we go in, we look at the film, we make our adjustments, make our corrections and for next week we'll try not to make the same mistakes. Fortunately, it's turned out in our favor."

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10/24/2010 04:55:11 AM


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