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Game 1: ECU 27, Va. Tech 22


Inside Game Day
Sunday, August 31, 2008

By Al Myatt

Pirates reign in Panthers' palace

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

CHARLOTTE — East Carolina ruled as kings of the Queen City on Saturday after a 27-22 win over No. 17 Virginia Tech at Bank of America Stadium.

"I love Charlotte," said Pirates coach Skip Holtz as ECU improved to 3-1 at the home of the NFL's Carolina Panthers. "I have always enjoyed this city. I've recruited here for an awful long time."

Nick Johnson, a member of Holtz's first ECU recruiting class out of nearby East Mecklenburg, made the play that took the first-half momentum away from the Hokies, who were leading 14-0 at the time.

Johnson picked off a Sean Glennon pass at the Virginia Tech 20-yard line and returned it to the one to set up the Pirates' first touchdown and trim the deficit to 14-7.

"To watch this city grow the way it has and have the opportunity to play in the Panthers' stadium, I can't say thank you to all the powers that be that made all this happen," Holtz said. "This was like a bowl game atmosphere for us."

With a 41-38 win over Boise State to close the 2007 season in the Hawaii Bowl, ECU became the first Conference USA team to win back-to-back games over Top 25 teams. It was the ninth time since 1990 that the Pirates have knocked off a nationally-ranked team.

Paid attendance was 72,169, a confirmed sellout, and the largest crowd ever to see a regular-season college game at the NFL facility. It was the 11th largest crowd ever to see the Pirates play.

"To have the opportunity to come over here to play in a 70,000-seat NFL stadium in a great city where the fan base was pretty much even with fans from both sides and play a BCS team is an awesome way to open the season," Holtz said.

The Hokies are the defending Atlantic Coast Conference champions.

Panthers/Ericsson/Bank of America Stadium has been kind to the Pirates.

When ECU's series with N.C. State resumed in 1996, Charlotte was the site. The Pirates overwhelmed the Wolfpack 50-29 as Scott Harley ran for a school record 351 yards. The crowd of 66,347 was the largest ever to see a college game in North Carolina at that time.

The Pirates got a 9-3 season in 1999 after starting the campaign with a 30-23 win over West Virginia in Charlotte.

Although N.C. State blew ECU away 52-14 in the Queen City at the close of the 2004 season, the wipeout had value in terms of confirming the decision of athletic director Terry Holland to dismiss John Thompson as head coach. That opened the door for the Holtz era at ECU and nobody was disappointed about the Pirates' return trip on Saturday.

Holland took a position outside the Pirate locker room and congratulated players and coaches on their season-opening conquest.

"It's the culmination of a lot of hard work by a lot of people, a great Pirate Nation, as well as our coaches and players," said Holland after ECU snapped a six-game losing streak against Virginia Tech.

The ECU AD was looking ahead almost immediately to next week's matchup at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium with No. 8 West Virginia. That game is scheduled for a 4:30 p.m. start on ESPN.

"It doesn't mean a thing unless we follow up and do it again next week," Holland said. "We've got to go out there and give a great effort. That doesn't mean we have to win every game we play but we've got to capitalize on these opportunities to show what East Carolina football is all about."

The win over the Hokies before a national television audience on ESPN can only enhance recruiting and future considerations for the program.

Hokies coach Frank Beamer was beaten at his own game as T.J. Lee's blocked punt for the deciding touchdown was a role reversal for a Virginia Tech program that has thrived on similar special team moments.

"I think they are pretty good," Beamer said of the Pirates. "We play a lot of people but I'm not sure we'll play anybody better up front (defensively) than East Carolina. They're going to win a lot of football games. As long as they stay healthy, they have a good football team.

"Coming in I knew East Carolina was going to be good. They have all those guys coming back from last year, they are tough up front and they are a good, solid football team."

Beamer watched as Patrick Pinkney completed 19 of 23 passes for 211 yards without an interception.

"That quarterback, I think, puts them on another level," Beamer said. "He throws accurate and makes some good plays. He does a good job for them."

The Hokies became the fifth ACC team to be beaten by the Pirates in the Holtz era as his record at ECU improved to 21-17 at the outset of his fourth season.

A celebratory welcome for the team was scheduled for 8:30 p.m. Saturday night at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Many were already thinking about the possibility of a celebration next Saturday night.

"This game is over," declared Pinkney in his postgame remarks. "We have to get ready for West Virginia."

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08/31/2008 03:46:42 AM


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