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The Bradsher Beat
Friday, November 2, 2007

By Bethany Bradsher

Players chime in on enduring the test

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

It rises up between Mile 20 and Mile 21 on the Boston Marathon course, only an 80-foot rise but a daunting obstacle to runners who have already nearly depleted the stores in their muscles and lungs.

Some 20,000 runners face Heartbreak Hill each year and reach down deep for a surge of energy that will carry them over the rise and straight through to the finish line.

In Memphis on Saturday, some 125 East Carolina football players will be loping up their own version of Heartbreak Hill.

Nine games behind them, with a fingertip grasp on a 5-4 winning record. Two regular season games ahead, with a bye week sandwiched between that comes so late to be almost worthless for rest and recuperation.

Of course, the Pirates are determined to finish the course still at the front of the Conference USA East Division, which would lead to the Dec. 1 league championship game and an undetermined bowl game.

All of which adds up to a chance to fulfill every team’s most ardent wish during the dog days of the season — a strong finish fueled by the adrenaline of playing fine-tuned football at the optimal time.

To flesh out the finer points of this crucial stretch of the college football marathon, I asked the same four questions to three key ECU players — quarterback Patrick Pinkney on offense, safety and top tackler Van Eskridge on defense and walk-on Dirty Dozen contributor Juan Quantanilla on special teams. My inquiries, and their responses, are below:

THE MOST RECENT TRIUMPH: There was plenty to celebrate in Saturday’s 41-6 victory over UAB, so I asked each Pirate about the top clip in their personal highlight film from that victory:

Pinkney: “Just going out there and leading my team. Just having the confidence, and my teammates believing in me and the coaches giving me an opportunity again to get on the field.”

Eskridge: “It wasn’t even a touchdown, but it was a carry Dwayne Harris had, broke about six or seven tackles reverse field, and ended up picking up 20 or 25 yards. It was just a great run, showed great athleticism, strength, balance, everything.”

Quantanilla: “I had my family here (from Faison). I got tickets for all of them, and they made it, so that was special. I played pretty good, I had two tackles, so that was good.”

THE NECESSARY PAIN FOR THE GAIN: At this point in the season, aches and pains become harder to ignore. I asked them where they hurt the most on a post-game Sunday:

Pinkney: “I guess going in the weight room and messing with Coach (Michael) Golden. It helps us. We don’t want to, but we have to.”

Eskridge: “My shoulders. That comes from tackling, taking on blocks, all of that good stuff.”

Quantanilla: “Your legs, probably. You’re worn out from running so much that day and all week long to that point.”

THE BEST THING THEY HAVE GOING: The cream truly rises to the top when game totals approach double digits, so the ECU trio chimed in on the greatest Pirate advantage as they travel to Memphis:

Pinkney: “Just sticking together. Just being a family and looking out for one another. I think that’s been a big help for us. Defense has had their bad days, and offense picked them up, offense has had our bad days and defense picked us up.”

Eskridge: “After that UAB game, we finally got that confidence and that swagger back that we had last year. Our confidence is probably the best thing we’ve got going for us.”

Quantanilla: “Team unity. We believe in each other, and I believe we proved it already with some tight wins, that we’re sticking by each other and the coaching staff.”

AND THEN THERE'S THAT HILL... The best victories come when the winners overcome obstacles along the way. These buccaneers describe the toughest thing facing their team right now:

Pinkney: “Just staying in there mentally. I think everybody has to stay in there mentally, because you never know, we’ve had a lot of injuries, and they’ve got to be ready to play.”

Eskridge: “The season gets long because of the grind. You’re pretty much doing the same thing week in and week out. But you’ve pretty much got to block that out and focus on the goal at hand, which is to go 1-0.”

Quantanilla: “Staying focused. We have to stay focused and go three and out from now on. Actually, four games left, and we have to take one at a time. Like coach said, we haven’t accomplished anything yet.”

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11/02/2007 01:55:14 AM

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