Turnovers Sink Pirates; Bowl Hopes in
By Denny O'Brien
GREENVILLE — If there is one thing at which this East Carolina football
team has become increasingly adept, it's jumping out to double-digit first
And if there's another thing with which the Pirates continue to struggle,
it's protecting those quick strike margins.
On Friday, long-time nemesis Southern Miss provided the latest sequel to
the Pirates' topsy-turvy season by overcoming an early 10-0 ECU surge with a
manic 25-point second quarter onslaught that propelled the Golden Eagles to
a hard-fought 28-21 victory.
With the win, Southern Miss (6-3, 4-2 C-USA) significantly enhanced its
post-season opportunities by becoming bowl eligible with two games
For East Carolina (6-5, 5-2 ), it marked the final home game for a senior
class led by David Garrard, Leonard Henry and Pernell Griffin that had won
29 games over the last four seasons. But instead of celebrating, that
celebrated group was sent out reeling, as turnovers, missed opportunities,
and a feisty Golden Eagle defense proved too much for the Pirates to
"The turnovers bit us today," ECU head coach Steve Logan said. "We had
been very, very good with the football all year long.
"The two special teams turnovers kind of put us on our heels, and we
never could recover. Our defensive kids played one of the more courageous
games I've seen in a long time. They gave us every opportunity to try win it
with the offensive side of the ball, but we couldn't quite make the plays in
The loss could prove costly for the Pirates, who nine days ago had
aspirations of an outright Conference USA championship. Now, with two
consecutive losses, Logan's team must sit and wait to learn its fate.
It was perhaps a fitting ending to the Pirates' up-and-down season, of
which great things were expected in the preseason.
"It (the season) has been really tough," Logan said. "It didn't seem to
balance out much this year, but if you stay in it long enough, all of that
stuff is going to happen.
"We're a hard-luck team. At the same time, you've got to make your own
breaks, and maybe we didn't do enough of that."
East Carolina added to what already seemed like three seasons full of
heartache by committing five turnovers on Friday.
Though the Golden Eagles' defense was disruptive all afternoon long, the
Pirates' sloppy play was a result of poor execution, according to senior
running back Leonard Henry.
"They (Southern Miss) didn't do anything all game, to be honest," Henry
said. "We just hurt ourselves.
"You can't win ballgames with that many turnovers. Coach (Logan) preached
to us last night that the special teams had to come through, and obviously
Henry finished the day with just 80 yards on 24 carries, but it was
enough to push his season total to 1,432 yards, which is a C-USA
single-season record. His first-quarter touchdown gave the Clinton senior 18
for the year, breaking the ECU single-season record formerly held by
Perhaps the most costly special teams miscue occurred early in the fourth
quarter when punter Jarad Preston was unable to handle a high snap, which
was recovered by the Golden Eagles deep in ECU territory. Though the Pirate
defense held, the Golden Eagles did manage to up their lead to seven when
kicker Brant Hanna nailed a 30-yard field goal with 11:17 remaining.
East Carolina remained within striking distance throughout the second
half, thanks in large part to a Pirate defense that struggled in the second
quarter but held the Golden Eagles to just 133 total yards after the break.
Southern Miss outgained the Pirates 362-359 for the game. Even more
importantly, the Golden Eagles dominated the turnover war, committing zero
to ECU's five.
It was just the second time all season that the Pirate defense held an
opponent to under 400 yards. According to Logan, it was one of the more
courageous defensive efforts with which he has been associated.
"The way they kept going on the field after a couple of turnovers, making
them kick a field goal or getting an all-out stop — that's as good a defense
as you can play," Logan said. "It took a lot of courage to keep going out
and keep battling, and they did that."
The Pirates pulled to within 25-21 at the 4:06 mark of the third quarter
when Kevin Miller kicked his second field goal of the day, this one a
29-yarder. The Pirates drove deep into Southern Miss territory, but a
crucial drop by receiver Derrick Collier halted the drive, forcing the
Pirates to attempt the field goal.
Even more crucial than the drop, though, was a holding penalty on a
27-yard run by H-back Richard Alston that moved the ball from the Southern
Miss four-yard line back to the fourteen.
It was mistakes like that which proved too costly, according to Garrard.
"We just needed to put the ball in the end zone, but we couldn't with all
the turnovers," Garrard said. "They didn't really stop us, we stopped
ourselves — that's why we lost the game."
Garrard, who finished the day with 199 yards on 18 of 28 passing, fumbled
twice on the day and had a tipped ball intercepted with 6:55 to play, which
killed what could have been a game-tying drive.
The Pirates got on the board early, marching 83 yards on 12 plays, with
Henry punching it in from one-yard out for a 7-0 lead. The drive was fueled
by a perfect passing performance by Garrard, who connected on all six of his
attempts to set up Henry's one-yard plunge.
East Carolina tacked on a field goal with 24 seconds remaining in the
first quarter to push its lead to 10-0. The Pirates marched down to the
Southern Miss 26-yard line, but had to settle for Miller's 43-yard boot
after failing to convert on third and long.
Southern Miss finally got on the scoreboard with 10:37 remaining before
halftime when Kelly found running back Dawayne Woods open in the flat for a
six-yard score. On the play, cornerback Kelly Hardy seemingly had Woods
wrapped up at the line of scrimmage, but was unable to bring the Golden
Eagles' running back down.
Southern Miss struck again, this time with a field goal, after recovering
Garrard's first of two fumbles on the day. The Eagles took advantage of
excellent field position after Garrard was unable to handle the
center-exchange from junior Doug White, to pull the score closer at 10-9.
Following a quick three-and-out by the Pirates, the Golden Eagles managed
to take their first lead of the game when Woods scored his second touchdown
on a six-yard dart through the middle. It was Woods' fourth carry on the
eight-play, 55-yard drive.
Then, freshman kick returner Marvin Townes got into the fumbling act,
coughing up the ball at the Pirates' 15-yard line. The fumble set up a
four-yard touchdown scramble by Kelly, giving the Eagles a 12-point cushion.
The Pirates answered, though, when Alston found receiver Torey Morris
open for a 51-yard touchdown strike off a reverse. Garrard plunged in for a
two-point conversion to close the gap to 22-18.
But once again, the Eagles had the answer, with kicker Brant Hanna
nailing a 21-yard field goal as time expired to pad the lead to 25-18 at
At 6-5, the Pirates will have to sit and wait as several C-USA teams play
out the remainder of their seasons before learning their bowl fate.
According to Logan, the Pirates' won't think twice if they are extended an
"I've been scarred forever," Logan said. "In 1996, we sat at home at 8-3,
and I've said all along, 'One of these days, we're going to be a 6-5 team
"I think I counted that year four of them (6-5 teams) went, and we sat at
home. We do what the system dictates now, and we are a part of the system.
We weren't part of the system that year."
While the Pirates are forced to play the waiting game, they are likely to
reflect heavily on a season of 'What ifs?,' which took another eerie turn
late Friday when 17th-ranked Louisville fell to TCU. That, coupled with an
East Carolina win over Southern Miss would have given the Pirates a share of
the C-USA title.
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02/23/2007 01:41:59 AM