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Wake Forest Stellar in Grobe’s Debut

By Denny O'Brien

If you listened to ECU head coach Steve Logan in the days leading up to yesterday’s game against Wake Forest, you could have easily mistaken the Pirates’ opponent for Florida State.

And if you happened to watch the game, you may have left with the impression that the Deacons are on a mission to be as good as their more highly regarded ACC brethren from Tallahassee.

Wake Forest benefited from three turnovers and a stellar rushing performance by Tarence Williams, who finished the game with 163 yards on 35 carries, to become the first ACC team to win in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, beating the Pirates 21-19.

The Deacons were in control the whole way, building a 15-0 lead that proved to be too big a margin for the Pirates to overcome.

“We didn’t want an ACC team to come in here and get a win,” said ECU quarterback David Garrard. “But they’re a good team. They’re not the same team they were last year.”

Perhaps that is because of first-year head coach Jim Grobe, who couldn’t have picked a better scenario for his debut.

For ECU’s players and coaches, it was a disappointing start to what many have predicted to be a special season.

“There’s a bunch of heartbroken boys down in the locker room,” said Logan. “There’s no question, they’re really heartbroken. And some coaches too, I mean, that’s a tough deal.”

The Deacons’ spread attack kept the Pirates off balance with a nice mix of option football and an efficient passing game. Grobe’s game plan kept the ECU staff scratching its head for much of the night, searching for answers.

“We had heard that they were going to a spread offense, and in fact that is what they did,” said Logan. “It was a wise move by Coach Grobe because it accentuated Anthony Young, and I anticipated that.”

Young did plenty of damage on the ground, weaving his way to a 70-yard, 10-carry performance. But it was his 44-yard touchdown pass to Jax Landfried with 7:22 remaining that provided the game-winning score for the Deacons.

“It’s a shame,” said a somber Logan. “Their kid made such a fantastic catch on the take-off route. We were there in coverage with the guy and he made a fantastic catch, and that was the ballgame.”

The Pirates, however, had their chance to pull even late when Garrard scored from ten yards out on an option keeper with 3:48 remaining, cutting the lead to 21-19. But on the ensuing two-point conversion attempt, Garrard opted not to pitch to running back Leonard Henry, who seemingly had an open lane to the end zone, and was stopped just shy of the goal line.

“(Garrard) could’ve pitched it, maybe, and I think we could have got in there and had a tie football game,” Logan said. “We had the right call. I don’t know what David saw that made him keep the football, but things happen awful fast out there.”

In remarks after the game, Garrard noted that he thought he saw an opportunity to bull behind one of his offensive linemen to the goal line.

“I was trying to follow my guard into the end zone, but they made a great defensive stop,” added Garrard. “I was just trying to make a play – trying to get my team into the end zone. Sometimes you get it, sometimes you don’t.”

Trailing 15-0, the Pirates slowly clawed their way back into the game. Leonard Henry’s eight-yard scamper just before halftime pulled the Pirates to within 15-7, shifting the momentum to the Pirates heading into the locker room.

ECU climbed closer when Garrard hooked up with junior split end Torey Morris on a 49-yard touchdown pass with 3:55 left in the third quarter to shrink Wake’s lead to 15-13.

“I was waiting for it,” said Morris, referring to his scoring reception. “I knew it was going to come.”

Morris, who finished the game with four catches for 93 yards and a touchdown, was one of the few bright spots for the Pirates, who struggled against Wake’s 3-4 defense. The Pirates finished with just 294 yards of total offense, compared to 451 for the Demon Deacons.

Garrard was especially rusty early, though he got little help from his receiving corps, which dropped a number of passes. Despite the slow start, Garrard managed to finish with 231 yards passing on 18 of 35 attempts, including the strike to Morris.

“I had some overthrown passes,” said Garrard. “I had some passes that didn’t get to my receivers like I wanted them to. We’ve just got to come out and practice and keep working at it.”

Sloppy play was the theme for the Pirate offense, which committed three turnovers. And when the Pirates weren’t turning the ball over, they were dropping passes and missing assignments. According to Logan, it was poor field position and turnovers that sealed East Carolina’s fate.

“The turnovers got us,” said Logan. “We had a couple of balls – well thrown balls – tipped off of our wide receiver two times, and it just constantly left us with a long field.”

“My suspicion is that we saw two good football teams play tonight, and they (Wake) played a little bit better from the standpoint of taking care of the football.”

The Deacons struck first when Garrard was penalized for an illegal forward pass from his own end zone, resulting in a safety.

The Pirates had found themselves backed against the goal line after dodging an early Wake threat when Pernell Griffin recovered a Williams’ fumble on the ECU three.

“David was trying to bat the ball down so that they did not intercept it, which was a wise play on his part. I’ve never seen anything like that. That turned out being the difference.”

After kicker Kevin Miller’s kick sailed out of bounds, the Deacons marched all the way down to the ECU one-yard line before settling for a Tyler Ashe field goal, giving the Deacons an early 5-0 lead.

Garrard’s first interception set the stage for Wake Forest’s next score, a one-yard plunge by tailback Tarence Williams, who gained 104 yards in the first half. The score put an exclamation point on a 16-play 54-yard drive that drained 7:24 from the clock.

“They had a fine package that our defense had a hard time identifying, literally, who had the ball,” Logan noted. “With all the cross motion and stuff – they just did a great job.”

“At the same time, we played good enough defense to win the football game. We just didn’t quite get a break on the offensive side of the ball.”

Send an e-mail message to Denny O'Brien.

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