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Game Center: East Carolina 55, Southern Miss 14

Sept. 28, 2013 • Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium • Attendance: 45,005 • The Season

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Saturday, October 19, 2013

By Denny O'Brien

Inglorious series finale

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

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GREENVILLE – The football programs at East Carolina and Southern Miss will forever be linked to one another.

Given their similarities and the frequency that they played, the Pirates and Golden Eagles are permanently woven into each other’s fabric. Though geographically separated by considerable distance, the series between the schools is as close to an annual rivalry either has had.

Surely ECU’s 55-14 win Saturday won’t go down as the most memorable in the 39 games the teams have played, but you can earmark this one as the most significant. With the Pirates set to join the American Athletic Conference next season, this realistically could be the last time these two meet.

Despite how easily the Pirates disposed of the wounded Golden Eagles, it’s unfortunate the series came to a screeching halt Saturday.

“Southern Miss, Hattiesburg, they love their program like Pirates love our program,” Pirates Coach Ruffin McNeill said. “We are so similar in nature. There was a real competitive nature about us when we played, but there also was a mutual respect. I respect the Southern Miss program.”

There have certainly been some classics over the years, with East Carolina’s 36-34 win in 1995 in Hattiesburg immediately coming to mind.

The fake field goal that drew pass interference and pushed the Pirates within closer range cemented then-coach Steve Logan’s riverboat gambler legacy and essentially propelled ECU into the Liberty Bowl.

ECU’s 25-20 win in Greenville to close out the 2009 season and secure the Conference USA East crown had the biggest stakes. It also had the drama of a heavyweight bout.

The Pirates’ blowout victory Saturday delivered nothing of the sort.

East Carolina methodically picked the Golden Eagles apart the way a scavenger devours roadkill. It was almost as if ECU was delivering a parting shot to a program that, until recently, had dominated the series.

For the two-plus quarters that Pirates quarterback Shane Carden played, he was as proficient as ever. He connected on 30 of his 37 attempts for 308 yards, three touchdowns and another one rushing.

Star receiver Justin Hardy snagged ten passes for 126 yards, scored a touchdown, and added 105 more yards on punt returns. Like Carden, he did that while spending most of the second half on the sideline.

The ECU defense repeatedly forced three and outs, delivered numerous neck-jarring hits and made the Southern Miss offense look mostly helpless.

“It was very gratifying,” Carden said of the Pirates’ performance. “It was a big emphasis for us this week, finishing drives and getting touchdowns instead of field goals. It always feels better when you get touchdowns instead of just leaving the kicker out there to get field goals.

"It feels great to just get back on track.”

As much as the Pirates needed to get back in gear and erase the sting from last week’s loss to Tulane, there is a somewhat sad element to the thoroughness with which they beat Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles, now losers of 18 straight, have a history of being a proud program that shared the same “anytime, anywhere” scheduling mantra as ECU.

It’s one of the many ties that have bound the Pirates and Golden Eagles.

East Carolina and Southern Miss have cycled through coaching staffs and recruiting classes. The offensive philosophies have undergone dramatic shifts, and both have expanded their facilities well beyond their humble beginnings.

The one constant for both within the ever-changing climate of college football has been the presence of the other on the schedule.

That changes next year. Thanks to the constant shifting within college athletics, ECU and Southern Miss essentially said their farewells Saturday.

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10/20/2013 01:50:49 AM

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