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Game 1: Virginia Tech 17, East Carolina 7


Inside Game Day
Sunday, September 2, 2007

By Al Myatt

ECU changes the plot in Blacksburg

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

BLACKSBURG, VA — Jets did a flyover at Virginia Tech's Lane Stadium just after the national anthem and before Virginia Tech's kickoff to East Carolina on Saturday. Bands played. The teams entered the field between lines of supporters.

There was pomp, ceremony, energy and excitement captured for national television. It was the season opener at home for a Hokies program with an eye on a national championship.

The occasion also was supposed to be a time of healing and unity for the Hokies, who were sent reeling last April by a student gunman who took 33 lives on campus, including his own.

East Carolina officials, headed by Chancellor Steve Ballard, presented Virginia governor Tim Kaine $100,000 for the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund. Virginia Tech fans chanted "Thank you, ECU," in response.

ECU athletic director Terry Holland, whose hiring of Skip Holtz was further validated despite a 17-7 loss, was back in the Commonwealth where he was a coach and administrator for much of his professional life.

"It was an emotional day, for sure," Holland said. "Standing out on that field was like something I've never seen in my 47 years of college athletics. Unbelievable. The Pirate Nation stood tall and the Hokies recognized 'em. I've never been in a visiting stadium with 60,000 people saying 'Thank you.'

"Everybody who contributed to the fund and all Pirates everywhere should be proud."

Virginia Tech was supposed to take a step forward in dealing with the trauma of the spring. It was supposed to be a feel good day and ultimately, it was, as Hokie fans did the wave in the fourth quarter of a 17-7 win.

But the Hokies were expecting to take care of the Pirates with relative ease and get ready to strap it up for a real showdown at LSU this week. The betting line made Virginia Tech a four-touchdown favorite after projected Pirate starting quarterback Rob Kass was suspended earlier in the week for a DUI arrest.

ECU rewrote the Hokies' anticipated script starting with Pierre Bell's interception on the hosts' first possession.

Figuratively, the Hokies were placed in survival mode again — barricading doors and jumping out of classroom windows — fighting for their football lives.

ECU coach Skip Holtz said the prospect of playing the powerful program that Frank Beamer has built in Blacksburg had served as motivation for the Pirates throughout the offseason. His players made the commitment to be ready in terms of offseason conditioning and development under the supervision of strength coach Mike Golden.

Although the breaks of the game went in the Hokies' favor, the Pirates were far from out-athleted or overpowered as often becomes the fate of Hokie foes.

ECU had a lot more fight apparently than some of Michael Vick's dogs, especially on defense. The Pirates allowed Tech just six yards rushing in the first half and didn't allow a touchdown by the Hokies offense until the fourth quarter.

"We took a big step forward," Holland said. "Virginia Tech wins games on toughness. They didn't win this game on toughness. They got a couple of breaks and they were able to win. We lost the game, but we didn't get beat."

The Pirates won the war in the trenches with 142 rushing yards on 35 attempts compared to 33 yards on 31 attempts for the Hokies.

"Our front seven on defense have a chance to be something special," Holtz said. "We've got to shore up some things in the secondary."

Hokies quarterback Sean Glennon completed 22 of 33 passes for one touchdown and 245 yards but he was intercepted twice.

The Pirates were penalized 12 times for 69 yards.

"It's not enough to play hard," Holtz said. "You've got to play smart. We made far too many mistakes today to give ourselves a chance to win."

Holtz had said he would make his quarterback decision after kickoff based on field position and went with Brett Clay, who was listed No. 2 on the depth chart behind Kass. The Pirates didn't move early against a defense with eight starters back from the nation's top unit in 2006.

Holtz used three quarterbacks — Clay, junior Patrick Pinkney and Dwayne Harris, who was moved from receiver this week.

"What we did with Clay was the offense we had worked on in preseason," Holtz said. "We only used about 30 percent of what we had worked on in preseason."

ECU's points came in the second quarter after Jerek Hewett recovered a Brandon Ore fumble forced by Quentin Cotton at the ECU 48 with 2:37 left in the first quarter. With Pirate legacy Pinkney, whose dad Reggie was a star defensive back at ECU in the 1970's, alternating with Harris on the series, ECU took a 7-3 lead with a 9-play drive capped by Chris Johnson's 2-yard run with 14:23 left in the half.

ECU was ahead 7-3 for 11 minutes and 16 seconds — until Clay threw short on second and 10 from his own 2-yard line. The pass was intercepted by Victor "Macho" Harris, who returned the pick 17 yards for the go-ahead score.

"We were backed up," Holtz said. "We tried to run a fullback belly on first down. We got about half a yard. I said, 'Heck, let's take a chance.' We maximum protected it. We kept both backs in. We kept both tight ends in. We ran Jamar Bryant on a fly pattern and my thought was we'd get a one-on-one jump ball or if they turn and roll coverage toward him and double team him, we throw it high and outside and it's incomplete and it's third down."

Clay didn't return to the game. Pinkney played most of the rest of the way, completing 14 of 25 passes for 115 yards. He also netted 48 yards rushing on nine carries.

"I was really pleased with Patrick Pinkney, the way he played, the things that he did and what he gave to us," Holtz said. "He did some good things with his mobility."

The Hokies added another score when tight end Sam Wheeler got behind the ECU secondary for a 21-yard touchdown pass from Glennon with 13:07 left to play.

"This will be a great video for us to learn from and get better," Beamer said. "It's quite obvious we better be better next week.

"I think some people would underestimate East Carolina. They are a very good football team, a very well coached football team. They came in here and took it right to us."

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09/02/2007 05:33:18 AM


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