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Game 9: ECU 41, UAB 6


Inside Game Day
Sunday, October 28, 2007

By Al Myatt

State game now out of sight, out of mind

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

GREENVILLE — N.C. State could potentially have beaten East Carolina again on Saturday if the Pirates hadn't overcome the disappointment of a 34-20 loss to their regional rival last week and refocused quickly on their opportunities within Conference USA.

Van Eskridge provided a quick cure for any emotional hangover that ECU might have been experiencing as the sophomore free safety intercepted a UAB pass on the third play from scrimmage. Four plays after the pick, freshman running back Jon Williams utilized his cutback ability on a 35-yard touchdown run.

The Pirates went up 7-0 and the State game was quickly in the past. ECU didn't look back in recording its largest margin of victory in over five years with a 41-6 Homecoming trouncing of the rebuilding Blazers on Saturday.

"I'm really proud of this way this team went out and competed tonight with an awful lot on the line," said Pirates coach Skip Holtz. "We've talked about the conference championship and we're out of it if we lose.

"Sometimes if you put too much pressure on them, they'll go out there and they won't play, but I think this team is extremely committed. They want to be good. They want to win."

The win over UAB gives the Pirates a rooting interest in tonight's Central Florida-Southern Miss matchup (8 p.m., ESPN) as ECU needs a Golden Eagles loss in order to control their own fate in the C-USA East Division race.

The Pirates improved to 8-7 in games following a defeat from the Wolfpack.

After starting quarterback Rob Kass guided ECU to a 10-3 lead, Patrick Pinkney came in and took the Pirates on a 67-yard drive for a 17-3 advantage. The big play was a 45-yard bomb that Pinkney dropped into the waiting hands of Jamar Bryant at the UAB 20-yard line.

Pinkney had been told in a meeting Saturday morning by the coaches that he was going into the game in the third series.

"It helped to know that I was going to play and I was prepared," Pinkney said.

The junior from Fayetteville had thrown just three passes in the last two games and one of those was intercepted. He completed 6 of 7 on Saturday for 159 yards with two touchdowns on a turnover-free day for the ECU offense.

Pinkney stepped up in a 34-31 win over North Carolina on Sept. 8 to throw for 406 yards and three touchdowns but his subsequent performances had not approached that level.

Holtz obviously regained some confidence in his quarterback depth.

"Pinkney really did a nice job," said the ECU coach. "He came in there and gave us a spark. I thought he did a nice job of throwing the deep ball."

In all, five players took snaps for the Pirates. Brett Clay saw some second half action. Walk-ons Joe Sloan and Taylor Mazzone made their Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium debuts.

"We got to play a lot of guys and I'm proud of how they came out and competed," Holtz said.

ECU held its opponent without a touchdown for the first time since 38-0 win at Duke in the 2000 season opener. It was the largest margin of victory since a 59-24 conquest of Army on Oct. 5, 2002. ECU wasn't behind on the scoreboard for the first time in 12 games.

More than the statistical factors that kept reporters flipping through the ECU media guide, the Pirates maintained a shot at the league championship game on Dec. 1, which they would likely host if Southern Miss stumbles.

"This game gives us the opportunity to play another game towards the conference championship," Holtz said. "As I have said all week, we certainly couldn't win it tonight but we could lose it."

ECU travels to Memphis and Marshall the next two weeks, then gets an open date. Tulane comes to Greenville in the final game of the regular season on Nov. 24.

The Pirates' focus will be on going 1-0 against Memphis at the Liberty Bowl next Saturday at 2 p.m.

"Memphis is a really good football team," Holtz said. "I know their head coach (Tommy West) is a competitor and he is going to do a great job with them."

Memphis scored with 36 seconds left to edge Tulane 28-27 in the Big Easy on Saturday.

"This is going to be a heck of a dog fight," Holtz said. "We are not going to take anybody lightly. I keep telling the players we are not playing against an opponent, but we are playing against ourselves, and making sure that we are going out there and putting our best foot forward.

"If we do that, and we are not good enough then I can live with that. I just don't like it when we come out here and don't play to our full potential."

Pirate brass pleased

This wasn't just any homecoming but the Homecoming in East Carolina's centennial year. Founded in 1907, East Carolina is wearing uniforms with a patch commemorating the anniversary. The crowd of 41,125 was the 10th largest in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium history despite lacking many UAB fans.

"We need to develop momentum going down the stretch and this was a very good start," said ECU athletic director Terry Holland. "The defense has obviously played great. The offense has made some big, big plays. We've seen a lot of people contributing and I think that's great. We've got a lot of guys in the game, which is good, particularly this time of year after playing this many games in a row. It's nice to get some fresh faces in there."

Chancellor Steve Ballard flanked Holland as ECU's defensive reserves kept UAB's subs out of the end zone late in the game.

"It's just great spirit on campus," Ballard said. "It's nice to see East Carolina come out here and win one pretty easy. That doesn't happen very much with us. We like to go down to the last play of the game. With Homecoming and the celebration of the alumni that we've had, it's just been a great week."

Ballard knows the Pirates could use a Central Florida win tonight at Southern Miss to move into sole possession of first place in C-USA's East Division.

"We're certainly going to be rooting for Central Florida," Ballard said. "That should be a great game. I think those are two very good teams. If Central Florida could win that, we would love to be in the conference finals."

Callaway returns

First-year UAB head coach Neil Callaway was a part-time assistant on Pat Dye's staff at East Carolina in 1978 and 1979 — two seasons in which the Pirates were a combined 10-0 at home.

Callaway was on hand for another ECU win at home on Saturday, although this one wasn't so enjoyable.

The Pirates' game plan was to establish the run and ECU finished with 216 yards on the ground. The passing game produced another 255 yards as ECU's total offense got a very healthy 471 yards.

"I would like to congratulate Coach Holtz and East Carolina," Callaway said. "They did a very nice job. They had a good game plan and they executed it very well. Hats off to them for playing a great game.

"Obviously, we're disappointed with where we are right now. It's obvious we are not a very good football team."

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10/28/2007 01:43:41 AM


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