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Quick-draw Pirates Fend Off TCU Rally

By Denny O'Brien

East Carolina galloped deep into the heart of  Texas on Tuesday, aiming to gun down another Conference USA foe.

The Pirates came out with their six-shooters blazing, building what looked like an insurmountable, Texas-sized 27-3 halftime lead on Texas Christian's home field. But the Horned Frogs wouldn't play dead and staged a furious second-half rally — a rally which climaxed with a drive deep into ECU territory and a potential game-tying pass into the Pirate end zone as the clock ran out.

In the end, it was the Pirates who showed the grit, the will and the determination to keep alive their march towards the Liberty Bowl, with a final goal-line stand that fended off the TCU comeback for a nail-biting 37-30 victory in a prime time national television showdown.

With the win, the Pirates (5-3, 4-0 C-USA) remained unblemished in league play and maintained their hopes of an outright conference championship. TCU (4-4, 2-2) lost for the second time in league play, severely dampening its hopes for a C-USA title.

East Carolina used most of its bullets in the first half, led by quarterback David Garrard's 199 yards passing and two touchdowns, both of which exceeded 50 yards. The Pirates also got a first-half boost from running back Leonard Henry, who tacked on two touchdowns and 57 yards of his own.

During the early onslaught, ECU's defense was suffocating, holding the Frogs to 57 yards of total offense.

Garrard finished the night with 221 yards on 15 of 29 passing, including the two touchdowns. Henry gained 96 yards on 14 carries with three touchdowns, but failed to reach the century mark for the first time since the first week of the season.

TCU's comeback was fueled by quarterback Casey Printers, who entered the game in the second half for injured starter Sean Stilley. Printers proved to be more effective, throwing for 319 yards, all in the second half, on 24 of 50 passes, with two touchdowns and an interception.

But it was that late interception that virtually sealed TCU's fate, as safety Anthony Adams corralled a tipped ball and returned it 51 yards to the TCU 16.

From there, Henry took over, notching his third touchdown of the evening from 12 yards out.

It would prove to be the winning margin for the Pirates. But it was far from easy.

The Frogs dominated the second half of play, running 71 plays from scrimmage to ECU's 17. The Horned Frog defense buckled down, too, limiting the Pirates to just 51 total yards in the second half.

The Frogs took advantage of the Pirates' third turnover, an errant Garrard option pitch, when Ricky Madison plunged in from one-yard out to pull TCU to within 27-9. The Pirates had dodged a previous bullet when Printers marched the Frogs down to the ECU eight-yard line to open the second half, only to be denied on fourth and five, giving the Pirates the ball deep in their own territory.

After a 34-yard Kevin Miller field goal, Printers commandeered a 97-yard drive that was culminated with a five-yard strike to LaTarence Dunbar to pull the Frogs to within 14. TCU twice converted on crucial fourth downs to keep the drive alive.

TCU head coach Gary Patterson then pulled a page out of the East Carolina playbook when the Frogs recovered a squib kick in Pirate territory. Madison would eventually pull the Frogs to within seven with his second one-yard plunge.

But TCU never got any closer, as a tired Pirate defense found enough will to withstand one last bullet, as Printers' final pass fell incomplete at the goal line as time expired.

TCU got on the scoreboard first when kicker Nick Browne nailed a 47-yard field goal just over three minutes into the action. The Horned found themselves in excellent field position following Garrard's first of two fumbles on the Pirates' opening drive.

Henry put the the Pirates ahead on their very next possession with a 21-yard run off an option pitch that is certain to make the game's highlight reel. Henry carried the ball 16 yards, leaping the final five in Wringling Brothers fashion.

The Pirates struck quickly on their third possession, this time through the air when Garrard found Richard Alston on a 51-yard scoring strike off play-action. On the play, Alston made a strong move at the line of scrimmage and used his speed to separate from the Horned Frog defender.

The Pirates closed out the first quarter scoring when Garrard hit Henry's backup, Art Brown, for a 63-yard screen pass to push the Pirates ahead 20-3. Garrard avoided an all-out TCU blitz and found Brown wide open in the flat. From there, Brown did most of the work, making a nifty move to dodge one defender and scampered untouched for the score.

Henry's eight-yard waltz with 26 seconds remaining before the half gave the Pirates a 24-point cushion, and put the Clinton senior over the 1000-yard mark for the season. The drive, however, was spear-headed by Garrard, who showed excellent poise in the pocket, twice converting on third down, and once more on fourth to keep the drive alive.

Henry, who now has 1,039 yards on the season, became the first Pirate runner to surpass 1,000 yards since Scott Harley did it back in 1996.

Henry will have to wait 11 days to add to that total, as the Pirates don't play again until they travel to Cincinnati on November 10 for a Conference USA showdown.

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02/23/2007 01:41:56 AM

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