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Pirates can't cast out turnover Demons

By Denny O'Brien


WINSTON SALEM — East Carolina didn't have to battle a driving rainstorm and mushy conditions in its in-state battle with Wake Forest Saturday night.

But that wasn't enough to stop the turnovers from pouring down in buckets.

The Pirates, like last week, were once again plagued by miscues, as five turnovers, a blocked extra point and a blocked punt more than provided the difference in their 27-22 loss to the Demon Deacons.

The setback marked the fifth straight for East Carolina (0-2) and its fourth consecutive against in-state opponents.  It also marked the first time since 1986 that the Pirates have opened the season with back-to-back losses.

"When you turn the ball over like we have — which I still think is correctable — and get a punt blocked for crying out loud — which is the first one we've had blocked in three years around here — and get beat by five on the last play of the game by a pretty good football team," said ECU head coach Steve Logan said, "we're going to be fine.

"We've got some youth that's paying its dues.  Some of our inside linebackers and our quarterback are paying their dues."

That QB, Paul Troth, struggled early, throwing three first-half interceptions, one of which was snared at the goal line ending what seemed to be an inevitable scoring drive.

The sophomore from Davidson eventually put things together in the second half, finishing with 273 yards on 21-of-41 passes with two touchdowns and four interceptions.

Despite the costly turnovers, Logan applauded the effort of his young field general, who nearly charged the Pirates back from a 17-point deficit.

"This young man is amazing me," Logan said.  "With what we're asking him to do, and where he is now after two football games mentally, it's frightening.

"They better get their licks in while they can, because those interceptions are going to stop."

Even with the miscues, East Carolina showed significant improvement on offense, tallying 395 total yards and 21 first downs.

The running game, led by Art Brown's 21-carry, 79-yard performance, flashed at times after mounting just 25 yards last week.  And the receiving corps, sparked by walk-on Richard Hourigan's five catches for 48 yards, proved itself a dependable unit following a disappointing outing against Duke.

In the end, though, the mistakes proved too much to overcome.

None loomed larger than Eric King's interception with less than five minutes to play that killed a promising scoring drive that might have won the game for the Pirates.

"Just like last week, you get in a rhythm and start completing passes and the offense just clicks," Troth said.  "It just feels like you can't stop us.

"Then we go out and shoot ourselves in the foot and throw interceptions.  There's no excuse for that.  Four interceptions is unreasonable for me."

Showing the maturity of a seasoned veteran, Troth didn't let the interceptions weigh too heavily.  With the Pirates trailing by 17 early in the third quarter after a 46-yard scoring toss from Wake quarterback James MacPherson to Jason Anderson, the sophomore slinger put the Pirates on his back, nearly completing a furious comeback.

First, he hit walk-on receiver Richard Hourigan on a ten-yard touchdown strike to pull ECU to within ten at 20-10.  One drive later, he hooked up with Terrance Copper on a 51-yard strike that set up a six-yard scamper by Brown to cut the Deacon's lead to 20-16.

But thanks to those special teams miscues, the Pirates wouldn't inch closer.

"We had a great effort on our punt block, and I felt our only chance was to bring our linebackers and give Paul (Troth) a little pressure," Wake coach Jim Grobe said.  "Down the stretch, we were scared to death, to tell the truth."

The Pirates didn't lay down, though, instead fighting to the bitter end.  East Carolina needed just 1:03 to mount a three-play, 60-yard drive that cut the Deacons' lead to 27-22 when Troth found Edwin Rios in the back of the end zone from 16-yards out.

After a fumbled snap by punter Steve Hale at Wake's own 42-yard line, the Pirates had one last chance with just over a minute remaining.

But it wasn't to be.  The Pirates managed just seven yards before turning the ball over on downs, sealing the Deacon's hard-fought victory.

"The team showed a lot of heart," nose guard Damane Duckett said.  "Right now, there are a lot of sad faces in the locker room, but determined ones.

"There's a lot of confidence there and the players need to stay together as a family.  The thing we need to work on going into conference play is the turnover ratio."

The Pirates jumped on the board first off the right leg of Kevin Miller, who nailed a 50-yard field goal at the 12:30 mark of the first quarter.  The three-pointer was set up by a 31-yard punt return by Copper, filling in for Richard Alston, who missed the game after being diagnosed with mononucleosis earlier this week.

Wake answered right back with a one-yard plunge by Ovie Mughelli, his fifth touchdown of the season.  The Deacons needed just two minutes to march 80-yards in eight plays, highlighted by a key 29-yard pass from MacPherson to wide receiver Fabian Davis on fourth down to set up first-and-goal at the one.

Matt Wisnosky's 36-yard field goal with 1:11 to play in the first quarter upped the Deacs lead to 10-3.  Wake mounted just 19-yards on the drive, following Troth's second interception of the day.

Daryl Shaw's interception of Troth in the end zone set up Wisnosky's second field goal, this one from 27 yards, boosting the Deacs' lead to 13-3.

Even though the Pirates have stumbled out of the gates at 0-2, Logan remains optimistic about his young team and is confident that things will soon get better.

"I just can't tell you how upbeat and positive I am right now," Logan said.  "We're going to have a lot of fun pretty quick.

"I don't know when it's going to happen, but it's going to happen.  We're going to have a good football team."


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02/23/2007 01:50:54 AM

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