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From the Anchor Desk
Tuesday, September 28, 2010

By Brian Bailey

Order Before They're Gone: 2010 Bonesville The Magazine

Eastern N.C. flavor infuses matchup

By Brian Bailey
All rights reserved.

Coach Ruffin McNeill has felt firsthand the emotions that go into an East Carolina football game against rival North Carolina. McNeill was a defensive back for a Pirate team that lost two and tied once to the Tar Heels during his playing days.

As a freshman, McNeill was a part of a 12-10 defeat. As a junior, he registered seven tackles in a 14-10 Pirate loss.

As a senior, McNeill recovered a fumble and had a couple of solo stops as the Pirates and Tar Heels battled to a 24-24 tie.

In those three games, the Heels outscored the Pirates by just six points.

McNeill remembers the games well. Back then, the players knew one another from playing head-to-head in the high school ranks and in the all-star games.

"It was always a very hard-hitting football game,” said McNeill. “It was not a place for the faint of heart. It was always the mentality that we know you, but we're going to try and tear you up. Now I look at the guys on the sideline and I know the majority of their coaches. I know our players know a lot of their players, too. It'll be fun."

McNeill is certainly a Pat Dye disciple. Both coaches stress the fundamentals and both love to distribute the football on offense. Dye used the wishbone. McNeill has adopted the “air raid” spread attack led by Lincoln Riley.

“One of the things Coach (Pat) Dye talked about was making sure we played as hard as we possibly could,” said McNeill reflecting back. “We represented Eastern North Carolina. Not just East Carolina or where you're from, but the whole part of the state. There are a lot of people who look up to our team and players.”

This time out Ruffin McNeill will be in his fourth game as a head coach. It’s a rivalry game that he knows all about. He knows the teams, the coaches and the programs very well.

"When I look at the (North Carolina) staff, maybe because I've been in college football for quite a while, I know the majority of it really well.” said McNeill. “I know they've had a tough time at it. They have gone though some adversity. But you have to take hats off to them as they've held that team together, even missing some guys. They've done a good job coaching.”

For an Eastern North Carolina sports fan, this game features a who’s who of former high school stars for both East Carolina and North Carolina.

Wide receivers Erik Highsmith for the Tar Heels and Mike Price for East Carolina battled for West Craven and New Bern respectfully.

Pirate wide receiver Joe Womack and North Carolina defensive lineman Donte Paige-Moss were teammates at Northside High School in Jacksonville.

The Tar Heels have a list of eastern North Carolina high school standouts. Ruffin McNeill is figuring on luring some of that talent to Greenville.

“We hope to get some of those guys in the future,” McNeill said and smiled.

On the other side of the coin, North Carolina’s Butch Davis has had his problems with East Carolina. He lost a home game and the “flood” game in Raleigh to East Carolina while serving as the University of Miami’s head coach.

He also lost to ECU in Greenville in his first year at North Carolina before beating the Pirates last season in Chapel Hill.

Davis also says his players look forward to the matchup.

“Any time you play in-state it gets everybody excited,” said Davis. “Many of the kids have known each other through their high school careers. They’ve read about them or played against them in the state playoffs. I think our guys realize playing in-state has a little more significance.”

I’ve had a chance to see the last four in the series and every one of the contests has been great to watch.

From Art Brown’s fumble in 2001 to Ben Hartman’s game winner in 2007, the games have been good ones.

The Pirates and the Heels look to add a chapter on Saturday.

It should be a great atmosphere, especially with so many players from Eastern North Carolina on the field.


E-mail Brian Bailey.

Brian Bailey Archives

10/20/2010 01:01 AM


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