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From the Anchor Desk
Tuesday, September 2, 2008

By Brian Bailey

Football gods even out the tally

By Brian Bailey
All rights reserved.

This one had all the makings of one of those “close, but no cigar” losses.

East Carolina had closed the gap against Virginia Tech to 22-20 with Patrick Pinkney’s 4th quarter touchdown.

The difference for Tech was the 2-point conversion return by Rocky Mount’s Stephan Virgil off a blocked extra point attempt.

Pirate fans had seen this before.

On October 17, 1998, Alabama beat ECU 23-22. The difference in that game was another 2-point conversion off a blocked extra point.

History couldn’t repeat itself, could it?

The Pirate defense stuffed Tech one more time, and East Carolina would have plenty of time to try and drive for a potential game winning field goal.
The problem, though, is that rookie kicker Ben Ryan had struggled in his first game and was shaky at best.

One of the signs at Bank of America Stadium said it best. The sign read, “If you can’t run or pass, just SKIP.” That phrase rang true, as the Pirates would indeed SKIP to another win.

Skip Holtz brought a team to Charlotte that absolutely refused to give up. There were plenty of chances to quit, but the Pirates never did.

As the Hokies lined up to punt on that fourth down, I immediately thought of the reverse. How many times had “Beamer Ball” come through with a blocked kick or another special teams play late in a game to pull out a win.

This time, though, it would be the Pirates that came through with one of the biggest special teams plays in the program’s history. T.J. Lee broke through, blocked the kick, then picked up the pigskin on the bounce to give the Pirates an unbelievable win.

After the game, Lee was one of the last Pirates out of the locker room. By that time, every media member in attendance was waiting to hear T.J.’s version of the winning play.

Lee emerged from the locker room and was directed across the corridor to face the cameras and microphones. The lights flashed on, and T.J. had a quick look of fear on his face. It was like he thought he had gotten caught doing something wrong. After a first question though, T.J. warmed up to tell everyone how he was able to pull off the stunning play.

“He (Coach Holtz) said punt block, so we went after it,” said Lee. “We got a good push, I saw a little opening, blocked it, scooped and scored.”

Holtz had this to say on Monday about the play:

“Virginia Tech only punted three times. We tried to set up a return on the first one and couldn’t block the outside guys. We tried to double those guys the second time, and got seven yards. I called for the punt block, but I told every one of those guys that they had better not touch the punter, or that would be the game. T.J. made a great individual play, for sure.”

T.J. Lee made the big play, but the stars were many for East Carolina.

Patrick Pinkney was a leader at quarterback. Davon Drew showed he’s the main threat to help the Pirates on third down. The offensive line gave Pinkney plenty of time. Dwayne Harris, despite the huge blunder early in the game, showed his value on that key fourth quarter drive.

On defense, give the entire squad an “A.” The defense kept East Carolina in the game early on. When the Pirates needed a stop in that fourth quarter, the defense was again up to the challenge.

Holtz gave his charges a lot of credit.

“What a great win. I’m so proud of these players," he said. "I can not say how proud I am of them. The way they competed, the way they hung in there. The way that they tried, they never gave up.

"It would have been so easy at so many times to just give up. We kept making (it) so hard on ourselves. We come back at halftime and I told the team, we’re giving it away. Let’s just make them beat us and try to eliminate the mistakes.

"It was just a roller coaster, going back and forth, up and down. I’m just so proud of these players, the way that they competed. They never gave up, they never quit, they kept believing. The leadership was awesome.”

Next up, it’s 8th-ranked West Virginia.

Coach Holtz knows his team has plenty to work on this week. East Carolina will not be able to make the same types of mistakes this week and win.

It should be the hottest ticket in years.


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09/22/2008 04:11:03 AM


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