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Defense and Special Teams Ring Up
Three TD's as Pirates Shake Off Army

By Denny O'Brien

Trailing by seven early with Army threatening to make it 14, East Carolina desperately needed a spark from its defense, a sign of life from a much-maligned unit.

A sack, big hit, turnover. Something. Anything.

ECU got the lift it needed when linebacker Greg LeFever delivered a bone-jarring hit on Army's Josh Holden, causing a fumble that was picked up by safety Travis Heath, who darted 81 yards untouched for a touchdown.

After LeFever's momentum-swinging jolt, the Pirates never looked back, scoring the game's next 21 points and then pouring it on late as necessary to secure a vital 49-26 Conference USA win over the Black Knights in majestic Michie Stadium.

ECU got a huge boost in achieving its mission from the defense and special teams.  The units combined for three scores, including the tide-turning touchdown by Heath.

"My first instinct was to pick it up and run," Heath said. "The whole time, I was thinking about staying on my feet, looking past anyone who may have been in front of me, and scoring.

"It was a big play because it helped out the offense by taking pressure off of them and it helped out the team because it led to a conference win. That's what we needed."

With the win, East Carolina (3-3, 2-0 C-USA) snapped a rare two-game losing streak and marched a step closer to a first-ever conference championship. It was the Pirates' fifth win over Army (1-4, 1-3) against no defeats.

In a game that was closer than the 23-point deficit would imply, ECU got another extra thrust when freshman Marvin Townes returned a kickoff 93 yards in the second quarter to push the Pirates ahead by ten.

It wasn't until John Williamson intercepted an errant Chad Jenkins pass in the fourth quarter and returned it 29 yards for a score that the Pirates could finally rest easy.

"The difference in today's game was simply the surprise touchdowns," head coach Steve Logan said. "We had two defensive touchdowns and the 93-yard kickoff return.

"Anytime you can get 21 points in a game off of those kinds of plays, it's special. Plays like that do not happen very often, but they proved to be the ultimate difference this afternoon."

Townes, whose touchdown made up for some awkward play earlier in the game, showed the Black Knights why the Pirates are ranked second nationally in kickoff returns.

"When I caught the ball, I had committed to the inside," he said. "Next thing I know, there was one guy left and Art (Brown) was leading me. When he picked that defender off, the hole was wide open and I hit it. Then I took the ball down the sideline."

The Pirates made plenty of noise on offense, too, accentuated by another brilliant day by senior running back Leonard Henry, who finished with 156 yards on just 13 carries, three of which went for touchdowns. It marked the fifth consecutive game that the Clinton senior has topped 100 yards.

"He (Henry) is a beast that never stops," said Townes. "He doesn't even let an injury slow him down. He just runs with power. He may not be the fastest, but when you have that much power, people are going to respect you."

In addition to his 93-yard touchdown return, Townes added 35 yards rushing on 7 carries, while junior Art Brown followed his solid performance against North Carolina last week with a ten-carry, 49-yard effort.

The Pirates were also able to get the passing game back in gear as senior quarterback David Garrard enjoyed his most efficient game of the season, completing 12 of 19 passes for 173 yards, including a touchdown with no interceptions.

"David has been extremely solid since the second game," Logan said. "He is utilizing everybody in the whole offense now, and he's putting the ball where it needs to be.

"He is simply playing like an experienced senior quarterback. I have about six or seven games left with him, and I am going to milk it for all it's worth. He's a wonderful young man."

None of Garrard's 12 completions was bigger than his 37-yard scoring strike to Arnie Powell off play-action, which put the Pirates ahead for good, 14-7. It was an encouraging performance by Powell and the rest of the receiving corps, which had been plagued by drops in the Pirates' previous two games, losses to Syracuse and UNC.

"It was a great catch by (Arnie) Powell," Garrard said. "He came out of the pass route with a linebacker trailing him. I knew once we had that matchup all I had to do was put the ball up in the end zone for him and he came down with it."

Despite the defensive touchdowns, the Pirates struggled slowing down the Army attack.  The Cadets piled up 442 total yards, out-gaining ECU by a yard, and tallied more first downs, moving the chains 25 times to 24 for the Pirates.

Jenkins proved to be the biggest star for the Cadets, passing for a career high 289 yards and a touchdown on 21 of 39 passes. Jenkins also added 27 yards on the ground, including a nine-yard option keeper that put Army ahead 7-0 on the game's opening drive.

"We need to contest things better in the back end of our defense," Logan said. "If we can get that done, then our team improves instantly."

Henry's first touchdown of the day, a 51-yard scamper, pushed the Pirates ahead 28-10 with 4:14 left in the first half. Henry took the hand-off from Garrard and made a magnificent cutback at the line of scrimmage before dashing untouched into the end zone.

The Black Knights clawed their way back into the game in the second half, pulling to within nine when Jenkins found a wide open Aris Comeaux from 12 yards out with 9:26 to play.

But the Pirates didn't let Army get any closer, countering with Henry's final touchdown of the day, this one a 28-yard effort with 7:22 to play.

Williamson's interception return ended any hopes of a Michie miracle.

"Army played a wonderful game," Logan said. "Coach (Todd) Berry's offense is terribly diverse and hard to pin down. Todd is doing a phenomenal job. They are noticeably stronger than last year and they are definitely going to beat some teams this season.

"Army is a competitive team. This was a very good win for East Carolina football."

Most importantly, it was a league win.

"Right now we are concerned about taking care of business in the conference," Logan added. " We have been on the road twice and have come away with two victories. That is a very tough thing to do."

After three consecutive road games, the Pirates finally return home next week to face Memphis in what looks to be ECU's toughest C-USA test to date.  The Tigers routed Houston 52-33 on Saturday night.

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02/23/2007 01:41:53 AM

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