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View from the 'ville
Thursday, May 15, 2008

By Al Myatt

A year of meeting the call

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

Fate can throw curve balls as well as any of East Carolina's pitchers. As the 2007-08 athletic year draws to a close for the Pirates, it has been a span characterized by unpredictable circumstances producing dramatic results.

In early August last year, it would have been difficult to foresee the impact that Patrick Pinkney would have on the Pirate football program or the improvement that Mack McCarthy would bring to ECU in basketball.

Both Pinkney and McCarthy took their turns stepping up like Lou Gehrig for the New York Yankees when Wally Pipp was given that famous day off.

The Pirates' quarterback situation took an unexpected turn in the week prior to the season opener at Virginia Tech and the program is still experiencing the positive consequences of the personnel adjustments that ensued.

Pinkney was third on the depth chart in preseason practice prior to the 2007 season. Rob Kass was the starter and Brett Clay was his back-up. Then Kass was arrested for driving while impaired after the final preseason scrimmage.

Coach Skip Holtz suspended Kass for the Virginia Tech game and the coaching staff did a hurry-up job of prepping Clay to face the Hokies. They also moved athletic freshman Dwayne Harris from receiver to take some snaps.

Pinkney remained an afterthought until Clay struggled against the vaunted Virginia Tech defense and Harris was too one-dimensional. When the Pirate coaches turned to Pinkney, they got a performance from the son of former ECU defensive back Reggie Pinkney of a caliber they said they hadn't witnessed on the practice field.

Pinkney completed 14 of 25 passes for 115 yards and ran times for 48 yards in Blacksburg to keep the Pirates within striking distance in a 17-7 loss to the eventual ACC champions. More important than keeping the game interesting, Pinkney established himself as the top contender to start the following week in a showdown with regional rival North Carolina in Greenville.

In the game of his life against the Tar Heels, the former third stringer passed for 406 yards and three touchdowns, driving the Pirates into position for a winning field goal to close the game. Pinkney was also ECU's leading rusher with 10 keepers for 22 yards as the Heel defense limited first round NFL draft choice Chris Johnson to just 18 yards on eight carries.

Pinkney is capable of forcing defenses to respect his running and throwing ability.

"It would be hard to improve on that North Carolina game," Holtz said. "He was absolutely incredible."

Pinkney had a superb third quarter the following week in the Conference USA opener against Southern Miss as ECU rallied from a 14-0 halftime deficit to lead 21-14 going into the fourth quarter. Pinkney threw two touchdowns and finished with 20 completions in 33 attempts for 203 yards with one interception.

But in the weeks that followed, Pinkney could hardly be compared to New England's Tom Brady replacing Drew Bledsoe. He struggled at West Virginia and the Pirates soon turned to a two-quarterback system with Holtz trying to determine who had the hot hand and leadership skills du jour between Pinkney and Kass.

The combination required opposing defenses to work overtime to prepare for the diverse abilities of ECU's dual quarterbacks. Some weeks it was Kass at the controls, like when he threw 50 times in a 34-20 loss to N.C. State as Pinkney failed to complete either of his two passes against the Wolfpack.

In the interim between a 35-12 win over Tulane on Nov. 24 in which Kass got off 18 passes to Pinkney's three and the 41-38 win over Boise State in Hawaii on Dec. 23, Pinkney regained favor with the coaching staff and played much of the way against the Broncos. But it was Kass who came in and delivered a dart down the sideline to Jamar Bryant on a crucial third-and-eight that set up another decisive, game-ending field goal by Ben Hartman.

As good as multiple quarterbacks proved to be for the Pirates in 2007, Holtz said he would like to find one consistent performer to direct the offense in 2008.

Pinkney was focused on becoming that guy in ECU's spring drills.

"When you look at (2007) week in and week out, I don't know that Patrick played with the same intensity, enthusiasm and focus it's going to take in order to be a starting quarterback and an every-down type of guy," Holtz said.

"I think that's what he did this spring. I think he was really focused."

Pinkney threw the only touchdown in the abbreviated Purple-Gold game covering 38 yards to Darryl Freeney. He completed seven of 14 passes for 80 yards. Kass was eight-for-14 for 95 yards for the East Carolina team when the game was called at halftime due to threatening weather conditions with Pinkney's Pirates team leading 13-3.

Holtz would have liked to have had more time to evaluate in the spring game but Pinkney was identified on the post-spring depth chart as the starter.

Pinkney will go into his senior year with a great deal more experience than when he was thrust into a starting assignment out of necessity as a junior. He has been preparing himself for a demanding schedule that starts Aug. 30 against Virginia Tech in Charlotte.

"This is my last time around," Pinkney said. "If I didn't want to get better, there would be no reason for me to be out here. So I took it upon myself to get better mentally. ... I think that's helped me become a more consistent player."

Consistency was the quality Pinkney lacked in 2007. He stepped brilliantly into the spotlight at the outset only to return to an understudy role before co-starring with Kass at the end.

Multiple quarterbacks produced an 8-5 record and a bowl win last season. Pinkney and Kass will give ECU a great deal more experience in the upcoming season at that key position against a highly-challenging schedule.

Mack steps up

The timing of Ricky Stokes' departure from the ECU basketball program after two seasons, an overhaul of personnel and a 14-44 record was such that a coaching search was not practical. Mack McCarthy, who was on staff, was promoted to direct the team on a one-year interim basis.

After getting an 0-for-forever ACC monkey off the program's back with a 75-69 win over N.C. State on Dec. 8 and finishing 11-19 for the most wins by an ECU club since 2003-04, McCarthy was presented with a five-year contract.

Sophomores Brandon Evans and John Fields soon announced their intentions of transferring but McCarthy took the departures in stride. The Pirate coach had confidence that he could upgrade his talent pool despite the defections and it appears that he has delivered.

The signing of 6-foot-9 Darrius Morrow from the Atlanta area and 6-5 Chris Turner, who comes from Durham by way of Humble, TX, should provide much-needed help in terms of post play and creating offense.

There's a reason Mack has won 320 games in his 17 seasons as a head coach and made five trips to the NCAA Tournament. Fortunately, he was in the right place at the right time for the Pirates.

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05/15/2008 02:52:35 AM


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