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Pirate Notebook No. 445
Monday, September 27, 2010

Denny O'Brien

Focus should be on battle of the QBs

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

It's unusual for fans of East Carolina and North Carolina to find common ground. That goes for athletics, politics, and how the University of North Carolina system distributes monetary resources.

If nothing else, the historical relationship between the schools has been a culture war with a surplus of stereotypes. One side is viewed by the other as a bunch of snooty elitists who've essentially had everything served to them by a silver spoon. The other is viewed by its counterparts as a rowdy, rough-around-the-edges crowd that lacks refinement.

Should either decide to remove the blinders, it would discover that neither view is entirely the case.

That's unlikely to occur Saturday when the two meet again in a football rivalry that has been contentious at best. And you can bet much of the conversation will revolve around the multiple NCAA allegations North Carolina is facing and just how severely the school and its student-athletes should be punished.

Obviously, most Tar Heels fans would contend that the penalties will be far too severe. ECU supporters are sure to insist that the NCAA should be more heavy-handed and that North Carolina's historical claims of institutional integrity are nothing more than a fraud.

Such division of thought has been par for the course. But if there is one thing on which both fan bases should be able to agree — or at least you would hope — it's that both programs are led by quarterbacks with feel-good stories worth celebrating.

Dominique Davis at ECU and T.J. Yates for UNC-Chapel Hill are a pair of standup guys in the midst of breakout seasons that nobody saw coming. To some degree you have to figure that even they are somewhat surprised by the level of early-season success they have experienced.

Take Yates. During a couple-months long scandal, he has been the glue that has saved the Tar Heels from complete destruction. Once the target of immense criticism from both the media and Kenan patrons, he has been one of the few stabilizing forces within a suddenly dysfunctional program.

Without some of his key offensive weapons, Yates has performed better in 2010 than at any point during his career. And he's done so amid preseason demands from fans to immediately insert acclaimed freshman Bryn Renner under center.

You could hardly blame Yates had he decided to just mail it in.

For Davis, the journey to Greenville took literal detours. It began at Boston College where he started several games before academic struggles exiled him to a faraway junior college. It wasn't until he enrolled at ECU this summer that anyone was certain he'd even be on the roster this fall.

When he did arrive, there was no shortage of doubters who questioned whether or not he would fit in the Pirates' new Air Raid scheme. So far the answer is a near perfect one.

His poise and athleticism have provided offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley with an abundance of tools. It's also enabled him to expand the playbook to include plays that take advantage of Davis' athletic ability.

The result for the Pirates offense has been per game averages of 42 points and 441 yards. Not too shabby for a newly-installed system run by a quarterback who had barely more than a month of official practice within it.

If we're lucky, Saturday will be remembered as a classic quarterback battle featuring a pair of likeable individuals who have overcome their share of odds. Perhaps both will continue their mostly splendid play with marquee performances and further solidify themselves as ambassadors for their schools.

That would be fitting for two gunslingers that few envisioned in this scenario before the season began. Especially when you consider the turbulent paths each has taken.

You don't have to like the other school to embrace the success story of the other quarterback. At least you wouldn't think so.

But after all, we're talking about two sides that rarely agree on much.

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10/20/2010 01:01 AM

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