BIRMINGHAM, AL —
East Carolina's lack of production in the red zone ultimately led to a
28-20 loss to Florida in the Birmingham Bowl at historic Legion Field on
The final opportunity for
the Pirates (8-5) came on a drive that started with 3:28 left in the
game from the ECU 42 with the Pirates needing a touchdown and a
two-point conversion to tie the score.
Quarterback Shane Carden
completed passes to Justin Hardy and Cam Worthy for a first down before
Hardy had a 24-yard catch to the Florida 23.
Isaiah Jones had an 8-yard
reception to the UF 15. Jones had the ball knocked loose but Jimmy
Williams recovered for the Pirates at the 5-yard line for first and
After an incomplete pass on
first down, Florida sophomore defensive back Vernon Hargreaves III
picked off a throw intended for Justin Hardy with 1:20 to go.
That was the last snap of
the day for ECU, which wound up with a 32-15 lead in first downs and
outgained the Gators, 536-339, in total yardage. The Pirates ran 101
plays to 71 for the Gators.
"They were blitzing a lot
down there," Carden said of the final turnover. "We were hitting the
inside verticals when they blitzed. The corner came off the outside
receiver. I didn't have a lot of room to the outside and their defensive
back made a good play."
Hardy pushed his Football
Bowl Subdivision career receptions record to 387 as he made 11 grabs for
160 yards and a score.
Hargreaves' dad was an ECU
assistant in the Skip Holtz coaching era. Hargreaves recruited the West
Craven area when the Pirates passed on Hardy for a scholarship. Hardy is
a product of West Craven High School.
Hardy earned the Burlsworth
Award recently as the top walk-on in the FBS.
The older Hargreaves has
most recently been coaching linebackers at Houston.
It was the third
interception of the season for the younger Hargreaves, a sophomore.
Some things are so
coincidental that they are more than coincidences as ECU coach Ruffin
Hargreaves coached at ECU
from 2007 to 2009, part of a staff that guided the Pirates to Conference
USA championships the last two seasons.
Holtz left for South
Florida after the 2009 campaign and Hargreaves joined him there.
Holtz guided ECU in the
Papajohn's.com Bowl in 2006, a 24-7 loss to South Florida. That event
has transitioned into the Birmingham Bowl, which drew 30,083 for the
ninth variation at Legion Field.
The Pirates trailed 21-7
after 30 minutes but the second half had a promising start with Josh
Hawkins intercepting for ECU at his own 30. On the next play, Hardy took
a pass 66 yards to the Florida 4-yard line. On third down Carden
connected with Worthy for a 4-yard touchdown to cut Florida's lead to
21-14 with 12:51 left in the third quarter on Warren Harvey's conversion
Florida extended the margin
to 28-14 as a third-and-six pass from Treon Harris to Ahmad Fulwood went
for an 86-yard score down the west sideline with 11:20 left in the third
quarter. Harvey's 24-yard field goal closed the gap to 28-17 on a series
that started with Detric Allen's fumble recovery at midfield. Carden had
completions of 13 yards to Worthy to get the drive started and had a
19-yard gainer to Hardy.
Brandon Williams stopped
Harris for a 4-yard loss before Harris threw incomplete on third down on
the ensuing series.
A sack by Maurice Falls and
Brandon Williams forced Florida into a punting situation as the third
On the ensuing series, ECU
moved from its 39 to the Florida 7 before settling for a 24-yard Harvey
field goal with 11:55 to play. That cut Florida's lead to 28-20.
Seniors Hardy, Carden,
Harvey, Williams and Chrishon Rose served as captains for the Pirates.
East Carolina received the opening kickoff, which appeared to be a good
omen, because the Pirates lost games in which they kicked off against
South Carolina and Central Florida.
Chris Hairston took a
handoff from Carden on the first play from scrimmage. Hairston wore No.
25 in honor of Pirate senior running back Breon Allen, who was out with
a knee injury sustained in practice during bowl week.
The Pirates went 78 yards
on their second possession to score on a 3-yard pass from Carden to
Hardy with 7:06 left in the first quarter. A 26-yard completion to
Worthy to the Florida 23 was the big gainer on the series.
Worthy finished with eight
catches for 130 yards.
Carden completed 34 of 66
attempts for 427 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
ECU went for a fourth down
on its first possession, needing two yards at the Florida 43. Hairston
was hemmed up a yard short but it showed the Pirates were willing to
Carden's pass over the
middle with a corner blitz coming from his right on third-and-10 from
the ECU 22 was picked off by Brian Poole and returned 29 yards for a
touchdown with 3:09 left in the first quarter as the Gators pulled even
Gains of 48 and 15 yards by
Florida's Adam Lane Jr. led to his score from two yards out as Florida
took a 14-7 lead as the second quarter opened. A 13-yard scoring pass
from Treon Harris to Brandon Powell pushed the margin to 21-7. Harris
had a 24-yard run with the Gators facing third-and-17 at their 13 to
spark the drive. A pass interference penalty kept the series going on a
third-and-8 at the Florida 38.
Lane ran 16 times for 109
yards and was named game MVP. Lane made it to the end zone but didn't
make it to the bathroom at one point and left the field for a change of
The Pirates drove from
their 31 to the Florida 1 before backup quarterback Kurt Benkert was
ruled to have lost a fumble and the Gators took over at their own 1.
Replays appeared to show that Benkert was down before the ball came out
but the fumble call by the Mountain West Conference officiating crew
stood after review.
McNeill said the package
with Benkert was part of the game plan.
It was a hard hitting game.
Leading Gators tackler Antonio Morrison and ECU safety Terrell
Richardson were among those knocked out of action. The Pirates had lost
nose tackle Terry Williams and safety Dominique Lennon at the close of
Jeff Driskel came in at
quarterback for the Gators and the Pirates got a three and out. It was
reported following the game that Driskel had been released from his
scholarship by new Florida coach Jim McElwain. A graduated junior,
Driskel may wind up at Duke where he could play next season.
ECU moved from its 45 to
the Florida 17 with a boost from a 24-yard run by Anthony Scott in the
final two minutes of the first half. A sack moved the Pirates back to
the Gators 25 for a third and 15. Carden threw incomplete to Hardy on
the right side of the end zone before Harvey missed a 42-yard field goal
attempt with 42 seconds left in the half.
Turnovers obviously hurt
during a first half in which ECU led 18-9 in first downs and 282-159 in
ECU got two field goals and
two touchdowns out of seven trips to the red zone.
The ECU defense limited the
Gators to 45 yards in the fourth quarter. Driskel finished the game at
quarterback for the Gators.
"Better execution," said
Williams, who led the Pirates with 10 tackles, including three for loss,
of the defensive unit's improved play during the course of a misty day.
"Better gap integrity,"
said McNeill, who looked at the big picture in his postgame remarks as
he was flanked by seniors Williams, Hardy and Carden.
"Look at the body of work,"
McNeill said. " ... They leave a great legacy. They leave a blue print
and a mold I will use as long as East Carolina keeps me here."
The Pirates won 18 games
over the last two years, which ties for the most in school history.
ECU will take on the Gators
again in 2015, on Sept. 12, in Gainesville. Defensive coordinator D.J.
Durkin was the interim coach for the bowl game. New Florida coach Jim
McElwain made an appearance in the press box before kickoff Saturday.