GREENVILLE — East Carolina built its reputation on being a giant killer.
Saturday against No. 22 Texas Christian, the Pirates wove another piece of
fabric into the quilt.
For much of this crisp, cool late-Autumn day, it appeared that the
favored Horned Frogs would hop out of Greenville with an improved national
ranking and at least a share of the Conference USA crown.
But that scenario took a detour midway through the fourth quarter when
Pirates safety Travis Heath ripped the ball from the clutches of running
back Ricky Madison as the Frogs were closing in on the game-clinching score.
"I was just working on not losing containment and just making the
tackle," Heath said. "I saw him with the ball out, and the first thing on my
mind was 'get the ball out and let the offense go back down the field and
"Fortunately, I was able to take the ball from him. The first thing I
thought about after that was touchdown."
That's just what he did.
Somehow, some way, Heath managed to steal the ball from Madison, maintain
his balance, stay in bounds and lead a parade of Pirates down the sidelines
for the go-ahead score.
Quarterback Paul Troth applied the finishing touches by hitting a
wide-open Art Brown on the two-point conversion, giving East Carolina (4-6,
4-2 Conference USA) a 31-28, come-from-behind victory over TCU (8-2, 5-2).
"That was a heartbeat victory right there," Pirates coach Steve Logan
said. "That came from way, way, way down deep.
"I talked to the kids before the game and I told them we had beaten a
ranked opponent three times in school history... I gave them a script
how those games all go the same way."
The script? Hang on and keep fighting, which is exactly what the Pirates
When Nick Brown's 40-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left, the
Pirates slid into the glass slipper, sending the vocal Pirates faithful home
with a fairy tale ending.
"(The crowd) mattered big-time," Logan said. "What our fans did out there
today mattered big-time. I'm very, very thankful that they showed up and
gave all they had to give."
Logan also got an opportunistic performance from his defense, which
forced seven turnovers.
Quarterback Sean Stilley had the lead in TCU's comedy of errors, tossing
four interceptions and fumbling once en route to a 16-of-35, 177-yard day.
His fumble with 12:34 to play set up Kevin Miller's third field goal, a
44-yarder that inched the Pirates closer at 28-23.
"They played as hard as they could possibly play," Logan said of ECU's
defensive unit. "They created turnovers and they had to because we were
turning the ball over.
"Paul (Troth) got hit a couple of times on some throws. We could not
handle their defense. They whipped us, that's all there is to it. We made
just enough plays to keep us in the game."
Despite a truckload of miscues, TCU outgained the Pirates 445-236. Lonta
Hobbs led the charge, running for 158 yards on 22 carries and two
The freshman running back was also on the receiving end of a three-yard
scoring toss from Stilley, which upped the Frogs' lead to 28-17.
East Carolina added to the festival of turnovers, committing five of its
own. Troth, who struggled to a 10-of-31, 158-yard finish, tossed four
interceptions and fumbled once against the nation's second-ranked defense.
"When you've got five turnovers all caused by your quarterback, you
wonder if you're going to win the game," Troth said. "Coach Logan always
says whoever wins the turnover battle wins.
"They had seven and we had five. It was a crazy game — just crazy."
Though it didn't operate with normal precision, the Pirates' offense did
have its moments. The brightest occurred early in the second half when Troth
found receiver Richard Alston on a 69-yard scoring strike that cut the
Frogs' lead to 21-17.
Alston provided most of the offensive fireworks, finishing with four
catches for 113 yards and two touchdowns.
"I felt good out there today," Alston said. "I kind of saw some things on
film. I was able to go out there and make plays."
The Pirates mustered little in the running game, managing just 75 yards
against a swarming Frogs defense. Brown lead the way with 60 yards on 18
carries, eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark for the season.
After three-and-outs on their opening drives, both teams traded
TCU struck first when Hobbs took an option pitch and raced 52 yards for
the opening score. The Pirates struck on the ensuing possession, capping off
an eight-play, 72-yard drive on Troth's 19-yard scoring strike to Alston.
The Frogs reclaimed the lead early in the second quarter on Hobbs' second
touchdown of the day, this one an eight-yard bolt up the middle. Miller's
44-yard field goal with ten seconds left before intermission inched the
Pirates closer at 14-10.
With the win, East Carolina stayed alive in its hunt for a share of the
league title and maintained hopes for a fourth-consecutive postseason
appearance. The Pirates can attain bowl eligibility and claim at least a
share of the conference crown by winning at Southern Miss next Saturday and
at home against Cincinnati on Friday, December 6.
"We're focused," Alston said. "We know that we're still in this thing.
We're not going to quit because it's not our mentality. We're just going to
continue to execute — try to get wins."