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View from the 'ville
Thursday, September 18, 2008

By Al Myatt

Wallace looks for repeat of history

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

Billy Wallace will return to Carter-Finley Stadium on Saturday where he was instrumental in East Carolina's first football win over N.C. State back in 1971.

Actually, it was just Carter Stadium back then and ECU had lost there 23-6 the previous season in their first varsity matchup with the Wolfpack. Wallace, who came to Greenville from Edenton, recalled that he had a big game for the Pirate freshmen team when it beat State in 1968.

Wallace had a 57-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter and finished with 20 carries for 117 yards in a 31-15 Pirates varsity victory over the Wolfpack on Oct. 23, 1971.

"The play was 50 trap," Wallace said. "State had an All-American nose guard (George Smith) and we worked on that because he slanted every play."

Wallace was supposed to read Smith and go opposite from his slant. Wallace said offensive coordinator Vito Raggazo called the play and said quarterback John Casazza moved aside to allow Wallace to get a view of the Pack nose's alignment before stepping under center.

"He was slanted to the right and I went to my right," Wallace said.

Wallace broke free and outran Pack defenders to the delight of the ECU fans among a crowd listed at 18,000 in the current ECU media guide. The Pirates were just 1-5 coming into that game under first-year head coach Sonny Randle, while the Wolfpack had the same record in its only season under Al Michaels, who had been defensive coordinator under previous head coach Earle Edwards.

Despite the records, Wallace said there was plenty of emotion.

"It was a big rivalry game," he recalled. "Everybody was real excited and looking forward to it."

And the aftermath of ECU's first win over State?

"It was chaos," Wallace said. "A big day for us."

Fast forward four decades

Wallace coached on the high school level after going to camp with the Washington Redskins out of ECU. He has been a sales representative for a corrugated container company since 1983 and resides in the Piedmont community of Mebane.

He has more than casual alumnus interest in the current Pirates. His son, Bill Wallace, Jr., was an outstanding linebacker at Eastern Alamance and was recruited by smaller schools such as Guilford, Lenoir-Rhyne and Wofford as a senior last season.

The younger Wallace chose to walk on at ECU and made the team as a safety. He will likely redshirt this season along with most of the true freshmen.

The elder Wallace saw ECU's wins over Virginia Tech and West Virginia and watched last week's 28-24 win at Tulane on television. He's been impressed as the Pirates have moved into the national rankings.

"I've been watching East Carolina since back in the '70's," Wallace said. "And I personally think this is the best East Carolina team ever. Depth is going to have to step up with some of the injuries we've had, but I think it will.

"There were 23 players who made tackles against West Virginia and that tells you that's over two teams of players out there making plays."

Wallace has also been impressed with the Pirates' quickness and the job that senior quarterback Patrick Pinkney has done.

Pinkney's 24-yard touchdown pass to Jamar Bryant with 1:41 left to play provided the winning points at the Louisiana Superdome. The Pirates finished with a 316-312 edge in total yardage against a Tulane team that had outgained Alabama 318-172 the previous week.

"This past week (the Pirates) showed their true colors," Wallace said. "They got down and they came back."

ECU will take a 3-0 record and a No. 15 national ranking into Raleigh. Wallace expects ECU to come out on top, but his personal experience and familiarity with the series have taught him not to take the outcome for granted. Although State is 1-2, it has faced a challenging schedule, its two losses coming on the road to South Carolina and Clemson.

"You can throw the records out the window," he said. "They beat the heck out of us in Greenville last year (34-20 Wolfpack win). I feel like our guys will be headed for some revenge. But State's got their backs to the wall from what's going on with them.

"We're going to have to play a real good football game, but, to be honest, I expect us to. I sure hope we do."

'Act like you've won before'

An announcement over the public address system warned fans not to go on the field following the win over West Virginia. Despite a significant law enforcement presence, many Pirate fans could not contain their elation and streamed onto the Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium playing surface.

Some law enforcement personnel apparently reacted with a questionable degree of force, but attending games and supporting the Pirates does not entitle fans to defy game management procedures.

Conference USA came down on ECU with a $10,000 fine. Athletic director Terry Holland issued a statement asking fans to remain in the stands and celebrate by joining in as the team sings the fight song following future wins.

The situation after the West Virginia game put some negative spin on a highly-positive achievement.

A precedent that puts the situation into perspective comes to mind.

When Charlie Bryant was coaching the N.C. State freshmen basketball team back in the Billy Wallace era the Wolfpack was on the verge of upsetting North Carolina at Reynolds Coliseum. Bryant called timeout in the final seconds when the outcome was apparent.

The frosh coach told his team not to celebrate.

"Act like you've won a game before and act like you expected to win this game," he said.

There's a lesson to be learned there.

Skip Holtz, his staff and players and the backing of the Pirate Nation have helped build the program into one that has already proved capable of competing with the better teams nationally this season. Demonstrations of support for the program's accomplishments need to be conducted in a manner that will not reflect poorly on the team or the university.

The nation is watching ECU to a greater extent than ever before and fans need to exhibit their support in the right way, especially to enhance the opportunities that this season could potentially provide.

As long as the present policy of staying off the field is in place, ECU fans need to abide by it. Here's to belting out that fight song loud enough to drown out the Southern Cal marching band.

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09/22/2008 04:11:14 AM


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