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View from the 'ville
Monday, September 10, 2007

By Al Myatt

Hartman shook off glitches in the clutch

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

Ben Hartman's mechanics were a problem for much of Saturday night but there was nothing wrong with his sense of drama.

East Carolina's blond sophomore kicker from Winston-Salem had missed virtual chip shots from 30, 32 and 37 yards before nailing his final chance from 39 yards as time expired for a 34-31 win over regional rival North Carolina.

Most of those among the 43,387 fans who had alternately yelled "Purple" and "Gold" across Bagwell Field on Saturday night simply stood and watched in appreciation as the Pirate players celebrated deliriously.

There was a high degree of relief among the Pirate faithful that Hartman had finally connected.

"Ben is a really good kicker," said Pirates coach Skip Holtz. "I mean the guy just missed three of them but he's really done a nice job. He competed his tail off a year ago with Robert Lee and won a couple of those battles."

Hartman had the kicking job last season for a 20-17 overtime win at Southern Miss. He hit a career longest 47-yarder in the first quarter against the Golden Eagles and was true with a 19-yarder that provided the margin of victory in overtime.

Holtz and the Pirate players tried to boost Hartman's spirits during his struggles against the Tar Heels.

When the Tar Heels mishandled the snap on a 52-yard field goal attempt with 55 seconds left, Hartman said he knew he was going to get a chance to redeem himself.

"When I saw the bobbled snap I knew it was going to come down to me," Hartman said. "I just said 'Forget the other three. Make this one count.' "

Patrick Pinkney quickly drove the Pirates into position for a game-winning boot, taking a knee in the middle of the field at UNC-Chapel Hill's 23-yard line to give Hartman a straight-on shot at one of the biggest wins in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium history.

ECU called timeout with two seconds left to bring on the kicking unit, which includes long snapper Wilson Raynor and holder Joseph Sloan.

"I called timeout and I told him a joke to get him to laugh a little bit," Holtz said.

Actually, it was a riddle.

"It's so bad I don't know if I should tell it," Holtz said in his postgame news conference. "I don't know if he laughed because he thought it was funny or because it was so bad. It was one my son told me. 'Why did the coach go to the bank? ... To get his quarter back.' "

The Tar Heels called time after the Pirates to try and freeze Hartman, who played at North Davidson High.

"(Coach Holtz) comes over and he says, 'Now you've got to tell me a joke,' " Hartman said. "I went ahead and gave it to him."

Hartman didn't want to share his joke.

"It ain't that bad, but nah," he said.

Holtz had time for some last-second counseling after Hartman's attempt at humor.

"He`said don't let anything between your ears bother you," Hartman said. "I felt terrible actually. You've got your guys — D-linemen, O-linemen — the offense is moving the ball and you can't capitalize on it. That's nine points. That could have been the difference in the game easily.

"All my teammates supported me. They told me to keep my head up and follow through."

Left guard Matt Butler said he was praying as he provided protection on the final kick.

"I had to focus on my blocking but I looked up in time to see it going through," Butler said.

Hartman said the field goal unit performed well in terms of operations throughout the game.

"It was all me," Hartman said. "The whole operation was fine. Wilson Raynor did a good job snapping. Joe Sloan did his job holding it. The line blocked. Everything went right. It was me on all three."

The first of Hartman's three fourth quarter tries hit the left upright and caromed away for a Tar Heel touchback. His third miss with 3:03 left to play from 37 yards was wide right.

But when the Tar Heels had their own operational problems on their last kick, the door soon swung open for Hartman to step up front and center in a hero's role.

"I said, 'Just relax like it's your first kick of the night,' " Holtz said. " 'Don't let those last ones beat us. Just go out and do what you do.' "

Hartman and ECU avoided overtime with the game-ending opportunity.

"You've got to block out everything that's gone bad on you," Hartman said. "It's almost like you could relate it to someone's life who's had everything go wrong, go wrong, go wrong. Finally, they said 'Stop. It's going to be good from here on out.' "

A wave of good feeling swept over the Pirate fans as Hartman kicked ECU to victory.

Hartman, who may never have to buy another meal in Greenville, couldn't describe the emotion.

"It hasn't sunk in yet," he told a semi-circle of reporters following the game.

Holtz tried to sum up the dramatic outcome.

"What a game, what a game, one heck of a game," said the Pirates coach.

Send an e-mail message to Al Myatt.

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09/10/2007 02:22:00 AM


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