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Game Center: East Carolina 55, North Carolina 31

Sept. 28, 2013 • Kenan Stadium • Attendance: 60,000 • The Season

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Inside Game Day
Saturday, September 28, 2013

By Al Myatt

Pirates deliver stunner

By Al Myatt
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CHAPEL HILL — Maybe there were some clues before East Carolina's 55-31 blowout of North Carolina on Saturday but it came as a total shock to many.

It had to be a stunner for the oddsmakers, who had rated the Tar Heels a two-touchdown favorite.

It wasn't what you would expect for Military Appreciation Day unless maybe you were thinking of something along the lines of General Custer's showing at Little Big Horn.

The Pirates had been unable to get out of neutral after their opening drive in a 15-10 home loss to Virginia Tech on Sept. 14. ECU quarterback Shane Carden seemed almost shellshocked after getting sacked seven times by the Hokies.

Carden also had been sacked seven times in a 27-6 loss at Kenan Stadium last year.

Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas had passed for 285 yards against a Pirate secondary that looked like it was playing hide and seek. So what kind of field day would North Carolina's Bryn Renner have after passing for 312 yards and two touchdowns against ECU as a junior?

The matchup had all the makings of a nightmare for the Pirates unless you saw some telltale signs, like the Hokies' 17-10 win at Georgia Tech on Thursday night.

Virginia Tech pretty much shut down an offense that had propelled the Yellow Jackets past Duke and the Tar Heels.

The Hokies defense had held No. 1 Alabama to 206 yards of total offense.

So ECU's lack of production may have been about the caliber of opponent as much as a failure of the Pirate offense to execute.

While Georgia Tech's physical triple option was tenderizing the Tar Heels last weekend, the Pirates were resting and looking to redeem themselves from a disappointing showing against their first ACC opponent of the season.

Practically from the opening kickoff on Saturday, the Pirates played like Clark Kent after he emerges from a phone booth.

Well, that is, if Superman happened to change his fashion look to all black.

The ECU infomercial that unfolded on the ACC Network over almost four hours was astonishing for just about everybody but those embedded in the Pirate program.

"An awesome win," said Carden after leading the offensive transformation with 32 completions on 47 attempts for 376 yards with three TD passes and one pick. He also ran for three scores and even led the band in the postgame celebration.

"This one's for Pirate Nation," said the ECU quarterback. "There were a lot of people, some of them at our own university, that didn't have a lot of faith in us going into this week, but we always did. Coach Ruff (Pirates coach Ruffin McNeill) said, 'Don't listen to the noise, good or bad.' ... We just played our hearts out."

The Pirates had just one win in 12 previous trips to Chapel Hill, the only successful venture coming in 1975 when ECU posted a 38-17 win on the emotional fuel provided by the passing of iconic coach and athletic director Clarence Stasavich.

McNeill and his staff have been saying that their recruiting has been getting better. There is also the aspect of player development once recruits get to campus. Strength and conditioning director Jeff Connors walked off the field with a sense of accomplishment. He returned to ECU in 2011 after 10 years in a similar role at North Carolina.

Evidence of Connors' effectiveness was the Heels' meager rushing production, just 67 yards on 32 rushes. Connors also conditions the Pirates to perform in the fourth quarter, when ECU outscored its host, 13-7.

There were a lot of positive numbers for the Pirates on the stat sheet. Vintavious Cooper ran 35 times for 186 yards and had eight catches for 70 yards. ECU had 603 total yards of offense. The Pirates converted eight of 16 third downs and three of four fourth downs.

ECU (3-1) was eight for eight on red zone scoring chances.

Also huge was the zero under the Pirates' sacks allowed column.

North Carolina drew nine penalties for 94 yards. ECU was flagged just three times for 34 yards.

"I was glad we had a minimal amount," McNeill said.

There was plenty to be glad about. Pirate fans stayed in the northeast corner of the stadium to share the joy long after the Tar Heel supporters among the crowd announced at 60,000 had found the exits.

Chancellor Steve Ballard waited to give McNeill a hug as he walked off the field. The fourth-year head coach had a game ball, which he planned to present to his dad, Ruffin McNeill, Sr., in Lumberton.

"We're just proud of the entire effort of the team," said Dr. Ballard shortly after a 48-yard pass play from Carden to Lance Ray had completed the scoring with 3:33 to go. "Ruff's been getting this team better every year and this is a culmination of it. We come into Kenan Stadium and win, it's great for the whole university. We're just proud of the team."

First-year athletic director Jeff Compher is 1-0 against North Carolina.

"I know how much this victory means to all of our fans and what it means to this program," Compher said. "I'm just so proud to be here and be a part of it."

Cooper was asked what he thought people were doing in Greenville.

"They're partying," said the senior running back. "We can't wait to get back there and join them."

Saturday's elation was shared by many who might have expected a bleaker afternoon against their in-state nemesis.

Sometimes surprise parties are the best.

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09/29/2013 01:10:07 PM


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