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ECU now facing one-game season

By Denny O'Brien

The post-game slants
and audio bytes, as
penned and digitally
recorded by staff
writer Denny O'Brien.

Game No. 5 Vitals: ECU vs. Houston

• ECU now facing one-game season
• Rookie QB, big plays torpedo Pirates
• Box Score & Statistics
• Audio: J.T. and ECU players
• C-USA Standings, Schedule & Scores
• ECU Schedule, Scores & Links

GREENVILLE — OK, now you can say it. East Carolina's season is officially on life support, and the Pirates are showing no signs of consciousness.

With last night's 27-13 loss to a mediocre Houston club on national television, East Carolina now rests at 0-5 overall, 0-2 in Conference USA.

Both the offense and defense rank among the nation's worst. The expressions behind the facemasks are as sour as a gallon of three-week old milk.

With more than half the season still to play, the Pirates are virtually beyond reach from postseason competition. That has set the stage for what has become a one-game season — North Carolina's much-anticipated visit to Greenville in 11 days.

Win, and perhaps the Pirates can awaken from the nightmare that has produced seven-straight losses dating back to last year. Lose, and Pirate Pride will become so deflated that an endless supply of helium likely would fail to keep their pigskin hopes afloat.

"I know that it will be an emotional game," Pirates coach John Thompson said of the Tar Heels' momentous first visit west of Raleigh. "But that's something that we've got to build on. Football is an emotional sport.

"We need this game. We need every bit of the time that we have to get ready for it."

Especially now that the Pirates are back to square one.

At a point in the season when quarterbacks are generally expected to hit their stride, there now is indecision about the No. 1 guy. Up until last night, Thompson was so emphatic about Desmond Robinson as the starter that mere mention of the position automatically put the coach on the defensive.

But after nine interceptions, three lost fumbles and no touchdown passes from Robinson, Thompson now appears open to other options.

"I think Paul (Troth) went in and did some good things," Thompson said. "He deserves an opportunity to at least compete for that. Whether it's wide-open, or Paul's the guy, we'll just have to go in and see.

"You don't make those decisions right now."

That decision will have to come soon, given the fragile nature of a quarterback's psyche.

Though accurate in the short game, Robinson has struggled with downfield reads. That has resulted in a steady stream of turnovers and a confidence level that seems to deteriorate with every snap.

Troth also faired miserably against the Cougars, completing just 2-of-13 attempts against an average defense. In fairness, though, that was his first significant action and it will take more game-speed repetitions to develop a flow — that, along with enough faith from the coach to not look over his shoulder following a bad throw.

That's only one of many issues the Pirates are facing and it couldn't have come at a worse time.

For decades, East Carolina has fought for respect in this state, with football as its shining badge of pride. While the so-called Big Four was creating a mystique on the hardwood, the Pirates found a niche on the gridiron.

With an us-against-the-world attitude, ECU became a symbolic David, fully-prepared to do battle with a Who's Who list of Goliaths.

Well, now the Pirates finally get the chance to confront their most notorious behemoth, and in their own territory, too. Though Carolina is no college football bully — and likely to enter the game winless as well — this is one-shot-at-redemption matchup for ECU.

It's rich versus poor. Have versus have not. White collar versus blue collar. A school and a region that worked tirelessly hand-in-hand for everything it got against the kid with the silver spoon.

And it even took political arm-twisting — not to mention an extension to Highway 264 — to bring the Tar Heels to Pirate Land.

In many ways, the season now rides on that showdown with Carolina. For the coaches, players, and fans.

A victory in front of a sellout crowd could inject new life into an East Carolina program that suddenly is searching for a pulse.

A loss would be the emotional knockout blow from which it will be difficult to recover.

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This page updated: 02/23/2007 01:52:11 AM.

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