Stakes rising as season slips away
||The post-game slants
and audio bytes, as
penned and digitally
recorded by staff
Game No. 6 Vitals: ECU vs. UNC-CH
GREENVILLE — At least basketball season starts soon. That's the normal
discourse for a disgruntled Tar Heels fan midway through another
disappointing football season.
Coming from a purple-and-gold constituency that lives and dies by the
bounce of the pigskin, that phrase is a warning sign that East Carolina has
hit rock bottom on the gridiron.
That's exactly where the Pirates' sinking ship has rested after a 28-17
loss to previously winless North Carolina Saturday.
"It's tough to find a way to win when you're 0-5," first year coach John
Thompson said. "It's going to be tough to find a way to win at 0-6, but
we're going to do it. We're going to find a way."
Aside from winless Army next Saturday, it is difficult to pinpoint an
opponent against which East Carolina should expect to be competitive. Heck,
even the Black Knights present a tall task given the depleted emotional tank
on which the Pirates will be running.
That has created the distinct — albeit unthinkable — possibility of an
0-12 campaign, a scenario that almost assuredly would raise dire questions
about the decisions ECU made last December.
"I didn't see any quit in this team," Thompson said. "I didn't see any
panic. We're improving."
The numbers say marginally, at best.
Against a defense ranked last in all of Division I-A, East Carolina
registered an embarrassing 289-yard offensive effort. For three quarters,
the Pirates were so predictable that the term "vanilla" would have added
flavor to the playbook.
Though the defense played inspired football for at least one half, the
Tar Heels, with the nation's 104th best rushing attack, flirted heavily with
a 200-yard performance.
Same story, different day.
"You look at both halves," Thompson said. "We had it going, our running
game was going so well. We were playing well against the run. The first
half, we really had a control of it. (We) come back out the second half and
they turn the tale on us."
It really was that simple.
A tweak here. An adjustment there. The rest is history.
The remainder of the season also is dangerously close to earning that
label. Though mathematically not out of postseason contention, a bowl
invitation no longer is a realistic goal for a Pirates team battered by one
confidence-shattering outcome after another.
At this point, finding a cure for the common cold seems within closer
Still, Thompson, as is his duty, is peering for and expecting to see a
flicker of sunshine at the end of the tunnel.
"I believe this team knows how to win," Thompson said. "I believe this
team knows how to get there."
The question may be whether or not ECU fans will be patient enough for
that arrival. Even though coaches generally are given the benefit of the
doubt in year one, Thompson will get no sympathy for losing at home against
a struggling Carolina team. It was the one game in which he couldn't afford
East Carolina has waited its entire athletics lifetime to bring the Tar
Heels Down East, but couldn't cover the spread in the inaugural Respect
Now the challenge is more difficult than Thompson ever could have
imagined. Not only is there pressure to get into a victory pattern of some
sort, but the task of doing so with an emotionally deflated team and a
reeling fan base will be a perilous one indeed.
While a victory next week at West Point against another hapless team
won't restore the program's swagger, it might serve as the glimmer of light
Thompson has been searching for.
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This page updated:
02/23/2007 01:52:12 AM.