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Game 4: NCSU 30, No. 15 ECU 24 (OT)


Inside Game Day
Sunday, September 21, 2008

By Al Myatt

Pirates miss chances in red zone

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

RALEIGH — East Carolina had its chances in a disappointing 30-24 overtime loss at N.C. State on Saturday.

The Pirates got just three points out of a pair of fourth-quarter possessions when ECU had reached the NCSU 1- and 3-yard lines. Those missed opportunities were probably the deciding factor as State won a game that it never led — until it was over.

The Wolfpack made a fourth-down play when the Pirates elected to go for a score in a goal-to-go situation at the State one early in the fourth quarter. Jon Williams was stopped in the backfield as Pack safety J.C. Neal came in to wrap him up.

ECU was leading 21-17 at the time with just under 11 minutes left in the game. Pirates coach Skip Holtz chose to go for a touchdown rather than a field goal but the gamble apparently was defused by a missed assignment.

"It was a base play that we run out of our goal-line package quite a bit," said Holtz, who said his focus immediately shifted to the ECU defense. "The guy who never turned around and asked the quarterback was the guy who missed the block."

Holtz said he didn't regret the decision to go for an 11-point lead rather than send Ben Hartman on for a field goal try.

"Everybody says if you kick the field goal that's three points," said the Pirates coach. "But if you kick that field goal, they're not starting at the 5-yard line which is what led to our next field goal. ... If you watched our kickoff team, they would have started off a little better than that.

"I don't regret it. I turned to Greg Hudson (defensive coordinator). I said, 'What do you think?' He said, 'Go ahead, let's get up two scores now.' So we turned and we went after it."

The Pirates took a proactive approach.

"We played this game to win," Holtz said. "I didn't play it conservative or close to the vest and I wouldn't change anything that I did. I might change a couple of play calls that didn't work but I would go for it again."

Holtz takes exception

The Pirates coach was asked to comment on his team's "gutsy effort" in the postgame interview session. Holtz wasn't buying that characterization.

"There is no gutsy effort," Holtz said. "We feel like we should be in a game like this and especially with where we are. We've got to make plays at the end to win. I told this team they've got 24 hours to get rid of this pain. We've got to regroup and come together. We've got a conference game coming up next week with Houston."

USM takes loss at home

And speaking of league play, there were some surprises in Conference USA on Saturday. The honeymoon is probably over for first-year Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora after the Golden Eagles dropped their league opener to Marshall, 34-27, in Hattiesburg.

ECU will need a win over the Cougars next week in order to keep pace with the Thundering Herd, who moved atop the C-USA East Division with a 2-0 league record.

"Give Marshall a lot of credit," Fedora said. "They were the better football team today. Their coaches did a great job of preparing them to play at our place, and they beat us. We were outplayed and outcoached in every phase. We have a lot of work to do as a team."

Variety of settings

The Pirates have experienced four vastly different environments in a 3-1 start. The season opener in Charlotte at Bank of America Stadium was a neutral field with good numbers supporting both ECU and Virginia Tech.

Then the Pirates returned home to subdue West Virginia with the full backing of a packed house at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

There was little in the way of electricity at the Louisiana Superdome last week as ECU pulled out a 28-24 win over Tulane.

The Pirates ventured into the most challenging atmosphere thus far this season as a sea of red with some pockets of purple comprised the crowd of 57,583 at Carter-Finley Stadium on Saturday.

"We've played in three sold out stadiums at this point on national television out of four games," Holtz said. "We played in Panthers stadium, which was a great environment, a great setting there at home. It was an awesome environment there to have the opportunity to play at home.

"Then this one on the road. This was a great environment today. The one where we had to go down to Tulane and play down there wasn't near as full or near as loud. I guess the difference was there you hear clapping. Here, you hear the roar."

Refocusing on C-USA race

ECU players and coaches were obviously disappointed that they didn't put a win away when they had the chance on Saturday but Holtz credited State's defensive stands and the play of Pack quarterback Russell Wilson.

The challenge at hand is to get prepared for a return to Conference USA play.

"This is something that they've wanted, meaning the conference," Holtz said. "This is something they've wanted and they've worked for. We have been close to it the last two years. If we had to lose this game to win the conference, I would tell you that this may be the best loss that we've ever had in the history of the program."

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09/21/2008 02:58:34 AM


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