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Game 8: NCSU 34, ECU 20


Inside Game Day
Sunday, October 21, 2007

By Al Myatt

State reasserts itself after bye

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

GREENVILLE — As disappointing as a 34-20 loss to N.C. State was for East Carolina, Wolfpack coach Tom O'Brien deserves credit for getting his 1-5 team refocused during an open date and putting together a solid game plan that was well executed on Saturday by the Pack players.

ECU threw the ball 53 times, an incredible number and just nine off the school record of 62 launched by the one-dimensional 1997 team that featured Danny Gonzalez at the controls in a 14-7 Thursday night home win over Cincinnati.

The first reason for the high number of Pirate passes was that State got out to a 21-0 lead and forced the Pirates to go to the air in a catch-up mode. After ECU rallied within 21-20, the Pack spurted again to force ECU into a pass-happy Phase II catch-up mode.

The second reason the Pirates had to air it out was that there weren't a whole lot of good things happening with the ground game. Chris Johnson was limited to just 63 yards on 19 rushes, an average of 3.3 yards per carry. Johnson came into the game with a chain-moving 4.4 yards per carry.

"Our game plan was to first stop No. 5 (Johnson) because he's a great running back," said NCSU defensive lineman Martrel Brown. "We went in there and we just tried to cancel our gaps out and make him bounce outside to our linebackers and they made plays. Our linebackers made a lot of plays."

With Johnson under control, the Pack then zeroed in on ECU quarterback Rob Kass for six sacks.

"Me, DeMario (Pressley), (Alan-Michael) Cash and Willie (Young) were making bets on who could get to the quarterback first," Brown said. "That was our bet. All of us got to the quarterback so ain't nobody win."

Actually, Young was the Pack sack winner with two. Cash, Pressley, Brown and German-born Markus Kuhn had one each.

ECU's front managed just one sack as State quarterback Daniel Evans, son of Pack great and current radio analyst Johnny Evans, completed 29 of 44 attempts for 335 yards and three touchdowns with one interception.

On offense, State attacked ECU's inexperienced secondary. Evans, who has been in and out as a starter since O'Brien arrived from Boston College, had his best day numbers-wise since he was wearing purple and gold at Raleigh Broughton High.

"Through our last two games everybody could tell that we were getting closer by the way we played against Louisville and the way we played two weeks ago (at Florida State)," Evans said. "There were just some things like turnovers and on defense — just getting off the field on third down. Today, we remedied that."

One play after ECU linebacker Nick Johnson forced a fumble by Pack running back Jamelle Eugene that was recovered by State receiver Darrell Davis, Evans hit Davis for a 37-yard touchdown with 1:20 left in the first quarter. The play energized the Pack, gave them a 7-0 lead and helped take the crowd of 43,527 — the fourth largest ever at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium — out of the game.

ECU wasn't as fortunate when Johnson fumbled at his own 21 early in the second quarter as Brown got the ball back for the Pack. Evans found John Dunlap for a score on the next snap and the Pirates were looking at a 14-0 deficit.

When State's J.C. Neal went 20 yards to the house with a blocked punt, the Pack had scored three times within a span of three minutes, 26 seconds and ECU was at the bottom of a 21-0 hole with 12:54 left in the first half.

To the Pirates credit, they battled back within 21-17 by the close of the half. When Ben Hartman's second field goal was good from 29 yards, ECU was breathing down the Pack's neck, having cut the margin to 21-20 with 5:13 left in the third quarter.

The momentum certainly seemed to favor the Pirates at that point but ECU must have left its late game magic in El Paso last week. After State got a 41-yard field goal from Steven Hauschka for a 24-20 lead with 12:42 left, Kass was picked off by Pressley to give State possession at the ECU 32 with 11:43 to go.

Evans made the Pirates pay for the turnover with a 15-yard scoring pass to Eugene that put ECU two scores down, at 31-20, with 8:32 remaining. After consecutive sacks on the Pirates' next possession, Kass threw incomplete on fourth down and State took over at its own 48 for a series that led to a 21-yard Hauschka field goal for a 34-20 lead with 2:47 left.

The hand writing on the wall was clearly legible at that juncture. State would snap an eight-game road losing streak and get its first win over a Bowl Subdivision opponent seven games into the O'Brien era. The Pirates had a three-game winning streak at home against ACC teams come to an end.

"We knew we had to play for four quarters and that's what we did," Brown said.

State came into the game with a minus-17 in the turnover department but managed to come out even in that category at ECU. State, which had just eight sacks before the game, pushed its season total to 14.

The Pack resolved to forget about its 1-5 start in the two-week span between a 27-10 loss at Florida State and its second trip to Greenville. The opportunity to rest and refocus while ECU was making the 3,810-mile round trip to play UTEP obviously was put to good use.

"The bye week helped us a lot," Brown said. "After we lost to Florida State, we went in there and watched film. Then we had an off week. We got our legs back, got our bodies healthy and came in this week like, 'We're going to try and get a win.'

"We tried to forget about the first half of the season and worry about the second half."

O'Brien said the Pack was 1-0 in its new start as he prepared to head back to Raleigh.

"We made some changes that worked out for us, and I am just really happy for these kids," said the first-year State coach.

Now the Pirates are in a similar position of putting the past behind them and moving on. That endeavor begins next week when ECU hosts UAB.

"No doubt," said ECU coach Skip Holtz. "There are four games left and we will turn and come back."

ECU will have a tape review of the State game today, according to Pirate receiver Phillip Henry, who had seven catches for 64 yards on Saturday. Then ECU re-enters Conference USA play with the potential for league honors and bowl trips still to be decided.

"We're going to look at this film tomorrow and then we're going to put it behind us," Henry said. "I just feel like we can go out and play as hard as we can and maybe we'll get some good results."

That same mindset proved productive for N.C. State on Saturday.

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10/24/2007 01:30:50 AM


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