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UNC-CH 24, ECU 21
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Missed Opportunities Spell
Heartbreak in Chapel Hill

By Denny O'Brien

CHAPEL HILL  —  East Carolina stormed into Chapel Hill with a big chip on its shoulder, that us-against-the-world swagger about which head coach Steve Logan often speaks.

And for the first 15 minutes, it looked as if the Pirates would unleash on their in-state neighbors 20 years of pent-up waiting, scoring on their first two possessions en route to an early 10-0 lead.

But in the end, it was North Carolina (3-3) that strutted off the field as a string of missed opportunities, untimely penalties and turnovers caught up with the Pirates in a heartbreaking 24-21 loss in Tar Heel Town.

For the Tar Heels, it was their third consecutive win after starting the season 0-3, while East Carolina (2-3) lost its second consecutive game, marking the first time the Pirates have experienced back-to-back losses since 1998.

"It was a great game between two very good football teams," Logan said. "They made some plays and we made some plays.

"I'm proud of our players and I'm proud of our program, and I salute them (Carolina). It was a good win for them."

Despite the loss, ECU put together another productive ground assault, led once again by Leonard Henry, who finished the day with 105 yards on 18 carries. The Clinton native had plenty of help, too, as sophomore Art Brown pitched in for 58 yards on eight carries.

Brown also added 51 yards receiving on three catches, including a six-yard touchdown with 23 seconds remaining that pulled the Pirates to within three. But the ensuing onsides kick was recovered by Carolina's Sam Aiken, ending any hope for a Pirate victory.

"We never give up," Brown said. "When I was fortunate to make a play at the end of the game, I felt like we still had a chance because we're going to keep fighting until there is no time on the clock. North Carolina is a great team — my hat's off to them."

According to Logan, Brown's coming out party was the result of hard work, both on and off the field.

"Art's a talent that we've been waiting to mature," Logan said. "It's just been of late that he's figured out how to be responsible in all areas of his life, and it always shows up on the field when a kid does that."

ECU certainly had its share of opportunities in Saturday's nip-and-tuck battle. On the Pirates' second drive of the game, an apparent David Garrard touchdown was called back for holding. Later in the third quarter, Garrard found a leaping Richard Alston on a 77-yard strike, but it, too, was brought back due to holding.

"We had some unfortunate stuff happen to us," Logan said. "If we have any more touchdowns called back this year, I don't know what I'm going to do. I think that was number five on the year. I've never seen anything like it, but that was the call."

Perhaps the defining moment in the game came when East Carolina got the ball back after Sam Aiken's 21-yard touchdown catch that pushed Carolina's lead to 21-13.

Brown fielded the ensuing kickoff at the 19-yard line, made a couple of spectacular moves and found himself off to the races. But as he was about to cross the goal line, he was stripped from behind by Carolina's Derrick Johnson, and the ball rolled through the end zone for a touchback.

Brown, who returned four kicks for 131 yards on the day, said he never sensed that Johnson was on his trail.

"He was in my blind spot," said Brown. "I really couldn't see him — he just made a great play. They were kicking away from Marvin Townes the whole night, because he's a great returner. I just stepped up and caught the ball and did what my coaches taught me to do.

"That (the fumble) was unfortunate. The guy made a great play on it and knocked the ball out. Touchback."

The fumble didn't overshadow a solid effort by Brown, whose fourth-quarter touchdown kept the Pirates in it until the end. He certainly didn't lose the confidence of his teammates, including senior quarterback and team captain David Garrard.

"I knew if he just kept his head in it that he could come down and do something else, which he did," Garrard said. "He caught the pass and dove into the end zone.

"It was what we really needed at the end of the game to give us a shot to win. I respect him for not folding, not giving up. He fought through and he made something happen for us."

The Pirate defense opened the game with a vengeance, stuffing Carolina's first four drives and yielding just 29 yards. But as the game progressed, the Heels began finding holes in the ECU secondary, finishing with 278 yards through the air on a combined 21-33 effort by senior Roland Curry and freshman Darian Durant.

It was the third consecutive game that the Heels have used the two-quarterback system. Durant once again provided a spark, pacing the Heels with 151 yards passing and two touchdowns, while Curry added 127 yards and a touchdown.

Much of the damage was done on third down, where Carolina converted on 12 of 19.

"Curry made a lot of those plays with his scrambling," said Logan. "He kept himself alive for a long time.

"Two times they had a flat rout called with a receiver in the flat, and that was one of our player's assignments. When Curry started scrambling, he wheeled it up the sideline. It caught our defensive back by a step and they made a big play."

While the Carolina offense was heating up, its defense began to dig in. After taking a 10-0 first-quarter lead, the Pirates were unable to take advantage of good field position opportunities on their next two drives, which proved costly at the end.

According to Garrard, who finished with a below average 9 for 23, 109-yard performance, the early missed opportunities were tough to overcome mentally.

"It just takes so much out of you," he said. "You know you had a play, you know that it was there, but then you have to go to the sideline without scoring anything. That definitely takes the momentum, the emotion out of you."

The Tar Heels took the lead for good early in the third quarter when a Curry pass intended for receiver Brandon Russell was tipped by ECU's Brandon Rainer and landed in the waiting arms of tight end Zach Hilton, giving the Heels a 14-10 advantage. It was Hilton's second catch on the 11-play, 68-yard drive, and first career touchdown reception.

The Pirates came right back, marching 52 yards in ten plays, but had to settle for a 36-yard Kevin Miller field goal, his second of the day. The score was fueled by the hard-nosed running of Henry, who carried the ball six times for 46 yards on the drive.

"Leonard Henry — he had a great game," Brown said. "Leonard Henry is a great player. He has great work ethic and he runs hard every down."

Richard Alston got the Pirates on the board first, when he took a Garrard pitch at the five-yard line into the end zone. On the play, Garrard appeared to be wrapped up by three Tar Heels, but wisely spotted Alston for the pitch. The touchdown culminated a ten-play, 75-yard drive.

The Pirates struck again with 2:27 remaining in the first quarter when Kevin Miller nailed a 31-yard field goal from the left hash mark. Miller's boot was highlighted by a 22-yard Henry run on fourth and one which extended the drive.

The Heels finally got on the board with 5:25 remaining in the first half when Darian Durant found receiver Chesley Borders on a 29-yard scoring strike. The nine-play 89-yard drive followed a Dexter Reid interception off a ball that was tipped at the line of scrimmage, killing a promising ECU scoring threat.

"Our defense is still finding themselves, and I think they found more of themselves today," Logan added. "All three phases — we were good today. They were good, we were good. It was just a great game. I wish I had a ticket and a Pepsi and watched it, but I couldn't — I had to work."

And Logan will have little time to relax this week, as his Pirates go right back to work next Saturday at Army.

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02/23/2007 01:41:51 AM

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