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Game Center: East Carolina 65, Marshall 59 (2OT)

Nov. 23, 2012 | Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium | Attendance: 46,317 | The Season

Features > Inside Game Day | Game Slants | Gallery | Post-game Audio

Game Slants
Friday, November 23, 2012

By Denny O'Brien

Youth served on Senior Day

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

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GREENVILLE — Officially, East Carolina’s home game against Marshall was designated to honor the program’s 17 departing seniors. Apparently Shane Carden and Justin Hardy weren’t informed of the occasion.

In the Pirates’ unbelievable 65-59 double overtime victory Friday, it was the Pirates’ sophomore passing tandem who stole the show. They turned a showcase for ECU’s seniors into an all-out future preview, closing an 8-4 regular season that set the stage for bigger success down the road.

“Twenty-three out of the 29 guys we play on offense are underclassmen,” Pirates Coach Ruffin McNeill said. “Twenty-three out of the 29 that we rotate in on defense are underclassmen.

“Forty-four out of the 53 special teams players are underclassmen. So, it’s a good group that’s coming back (next year) who have experienced some things.”

They experienced a lot in Friday’s win over Marshall, including the highest scoring game in Conference USA history. They also experienced the ebb and flow of a game in which the Pirates looked dominant early, helpless towards the middle and resilient late.

And they refused to follow the script a young team should follow when an oversized lead evaporates. Instead of folding, it pulled together and pulled off an improbable win.

Much of that can be attributed to Carden, who passed for 439 yards and three scores while rushing for three more. He was complemented perfectly by Hardy, who grabbed 16 passes for 171 yards, including a trio of critical receptions on the Pirates’ overtime-forcing drive.

It was his 19-yard reception on 4th and 10 that kept the Pirates’ C-USA title quest alive. Another 19-year old reception — an acrobatic one amid heavy contact — will be discussed by fans for years.

But Carden and Hardy were not alone.

There was Jabril Soloman, a true freshman receiver, who hauled in a 59-yard strike to open the Pirates’ scoring and finished with three catches for 86 yards. Danny Webster, a sophomore, grabbed four passes for 31 yards and a leaping touchdown catch that forced overtime.

Then there was junior Derrell Johnson, the defensive standout in a game that lacked much of it. He tallied 14 tackles, two and a half sacks, and pounced on the fumble forced by sophomore Chrishon Rose in the second overtime.

Not to be outshined was Terry Williams, a 327-pound sophomore, who single-handedly destroyed Marshall’s punt protection, blocking a kick that gave ECU the ball on the Marshall 18 and set up the Pirates’ fourth score.

That East Carolina built 28-7 and 35-14 leads only to see them evaporate provided confirmation that the Pirates’ roster is loaded with both talent and youth. The more this team matures, the less likely we’ll see big leads erode.

And the more convincing performances we’ll see from a group that has already produced several of them.

“We didn’t get as many wins as we wanted this year,” Webster said. “We still feel like we could have definitely won a few more games this year.

“Looking at it, knowing that people are coming back with all this chemistry, next year could be special. This might be the best chemistry I’ve ever seen in an organized sport my entire life. There is no ‘me’, it’s all about ‘we’.”

The collective ‘we’ to which Webster alluded includes only 17 seniors, many whom were a part of some significant milestones at ECU. There was a Conference USA title, three bowl bids, and countless noteworthy victories over the last four years.

But given where East Carolina received the majority of its contributions in Friday’s thriller, perhaps bigger rewards are ahead. The youth movement has paved a bright future for the Pirates.

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11/24/2012 01:45:34 AM

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