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Turnover-free Pirates rush past Wave

By Denny O'Brien


GREENVILLE — For a team inflicted with a serious turnover epidemic, the last thing East Carolina needed Saturday was for the remnants of Tropical Storm Hannah to blow through Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

Perhaps fortunately for the Pirates, Hannah's bark proved worse than her bite as the torrential rains that had been predicted fell elsewhere. Instead of turning the ball over by the bushel like they did in their previous two games, the Pirates played virtually mistake-free in their Conference USA opener versus Tulane.

The end result was a much-needed 24-20 East Carolina victory that put an end to a five-game losing streak dating back to last season.  With the win the Pirates improved to 1-2, but more importantly moved to 1-0 in C-USA.

"No turnovers, no turnovers, no turnovers," ECU head coach Steve Logan said.  "That's how you win football games.  We gained one turnover tonight and I think that was the entire difference in the football game.

"I think that once again, the really uplifting news is we got better as a football team from game two to game three.  As a coach, that's the biggest thing you ask yourself — 'Are you improving?'  I saw a better football team tonight."

Logan saw significant improvement in his ground attack, which behind fullbacks Art Brown and Marvin Townes piled up 226 yards against Tulane (2-1, 1-1 C-USA).  Brown led the way with a career-high 185 yards on 27 carries, including two touchdowns.

Townes chipped in with a personal-best of his own, toting the ball 14 times for 87 yards.

"What I saw tonight, and really a little bit last weekend as well, was what I spoke to in the preseason," Logan said.  "I thought we had two really wonderful running backs, and our offensive line should be able to run block.

"Well, we didn't get that done too well in the first game, we did it better in the second game, and we did it better in the third game.  That is what I hope we can do -- hand the ball off, throw play-action passes, and let Paul (Troth) grow up step by step."

The win was extra-special for quarterback Paul Troth, who was making his much-anticipated debut in front of the home crowd.  Statistically, though, it was a fairly insignificant one, as the sophomore signal caller completed just 8-of-18 passes for 92 yards and no interceptions.

However, the less-than-glitzy numbers didn't seem to bother the Davidson native.

"I could care less about the stats because we got the win," Troth said.  "People are going to be afraid of our running game, so maybe next week we throw for 300 or we run for 300.

"Stats don't matter.  The only stats that matter right now are our turnovers and our wins."

Unlike its previous two games, East Carolina managed to overcome a second-half deficit.

Trailing 20-17 and pinned deep in their own territory, the Pirates charged 89 yards down the field, fueled largely by the running of Brown and Townes, who combined for 56 yards on what turned out to be the game winning drive late in the third quarter.  Brown's four-yard dash off left tackle capped it off, giving the Pirates a 24-20 lead they would not relinquish.

East Carolina would have later chances to put the Wave away, its best following a 48-yard punt return by Terrance Copper that gave the Pirates excellent field position at the Tulane 32-yard line, but couldn't slam the door shut.

"We had two opportunities, I thought offensively, to put the game away and failed," Logan said.  "Part of that is we're still a work-in-progress on offense as far as maturity goes.

"It became incumbent on the defense that they've got to go play.  The biggest change defensively from last year to this year, including the very first football game, is that we are getting off the field on third down some, now.  We're better on third down.  Our defensive kids are playing their hearts out."

After holding the Pirates to three-and-out on their opening drive of the second half, Tulane wasted little time knotting the score at 17.  Running back Mewelde Moore's 11-yard jolt applied the finishing touches to the Green Wave's six-play, 58-yard drive that elapsed 2:23.

Lynaris Elpheage's 44-yard punt return following another three-and-out by the Pirates set up a 32-yard field goal by Seth Marler that gave Tulane its first and only lead at 20-17.

"They came out pretty strong," Brown said.  "We came out and wanted to be a fast-start team.  We did that in the first half, but we didn't come out and do the same in the second half."

The Pirates struck first blood when Troth hurdled in from two-yards out, capping off an eight-play, 59-yard drive.  Twice the sophomore quarterback delivered on third-and-long to extend the drive, first hitting Torey Morris for a 15-yard gain, then connecting with Copper for 35 yards to set up first-and-goal.

Tulane stormed right back, evening the score on its next drive when Moore plunged in from one yard.  The Green Wave needed just 2:47 to drive 76 yards in eight plays to tie the score at seven apiece.

ECU regained the lead when Kevin Miller nailed his 14th-consecutive field goal, this one from 44-yards giving the Pirates a 10-7 edge.  The drive was set up by Kelly Hardy's interception, which was the Pirates' first of the 2002 season.

The Wave would later tie things up at 10-10 when it marched 82 yards in 22 plays, setting up a 30-yard field goal by Marler.

Brown's three-yard waltz with 4:32 left in the first half reclaimed the lead for the Pirates at 17-10.

"Conference wins are what we want," Miller said.  "Coming out and beating a good Tulane team that has a lot of firepower on offense was nice, and that will give us a lot of confidence heading into the next game.

"Even though it's a non-conference game, it would be really nice to go up there and try to beat West Virginia in a really tough place to play."

That's a feat East Carolina has yet to accomplish, but it's one the Pirates will have two weeks to prepare for while savoring their first victory and enjoying an off week.


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02/23/2007 01:50:55 AM

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