Season's stretch run should focus on
||The post-game slants
and audio bytes, as
penned and digitally
recorded by staff
Game No. 8 Vitals: ECU vs. U of L
GREENVILLE — The objective
entering the season was clear for East Carolina. With most of the starters
returning from a team that finished .500 in league play, a Conference USA
championship seemed a reasonable goal. A return to the postseason was a
Now that both have been mathematically
extinguished with a 36-20 Louisville victory Saturday, Pirates coach John
Thompson must set new goals for the final third of the season.
Marked improvement and stronger finishes now
should be the imperative with four games to play.
"We fought their tail today," Thompson
said. "That's a good football team, in both dressing rooms. That's a good
football team we played, but this is a good football team in the purple. We
battled them. We fought. We just didn't make the plays that we've got to
East Carolina certainly had its chances in a
game in which many felt it would be considerably outclassed. But man for
man, the Pirates seemed a formidable foe well into the fourth quarter,
trailing only 16-13 with eight minutes left.
That's when the game underwent an all-too
familiar metamorphosis, punctuated by another ECU collapse. Like the
flipping of the switch, the Cardinals' stars shined brightest at crunch
time, while the Pirates faded away.
"We can't give up the big plays in the
fourth quarter when we've got the momentum," Thompson said. "It's as simple
as that... fourth quarter.
"And we battled them in the fourth quarter.
We've got to find a way to win in the fourth quarter. We just simply didn't
make the plays. They did."
During the 1990s, the final stanza almost
always belonged to East Carolina. The blueprint for Pirates victories
generally unfolded like this: East Carolina plays nip-and-tuck for three
quarters, then seizes control in the fourth and puts its opponent away.
Fast-forward to 2003 and the pattern is
reversed. The Pirates have been outscored 62-24 in the final period over
their last four games, 95-37 for the year.
"You hate it, the way it happened," Thompson
said. "We didn't make some plays. It wasn't (a case of) folding.
Louisville just made some plays. That's a very, very good football team that
made the plays. We'll keep going on."
That means improving, the only way ECU can
remedy its late-game woes.
Strength and conditioning coaches often are
made the scapegoats when teams crumble down the stretch, but Saturday wasn't
a simple case of huff and puff. The Pirates didn't look the least bit
winded in what became one of the year's most physical tests.
If anything, it boils down to inexperienced
players and a lack of execution in the clutch.
By far, Desmond Robinson had his best
performance to date, carving the Cardinals' defense like it was Thanksgiving
lunch. However, a key of overthrow of Terrance Copper and poor decisions
late proved costly and changed the complexion of the game.
Defensively, the Pirates battled to the
bitter end but didn't have the answers as the seconds ticked. Of the
Cardinals' 492 yards, none mattered more than Stefan LeFors' 35-yard scoring
strike to a wide-open J.R. Russell.
It was the textbook example of the
play-action pass, with Pirates' corner Erode Jean biting on the fake like a
That should become less frequent as ECU
presses forward. Aside from Copper and a few offensive linemen, the
majority of this team's talent is its youth.
Given the way it performed for much of
Saturday, a win or two over the final four games certainly is a reasonable
goal. But as the final six minutes demonstrated, the margin for error is
As the Pirates get more games under their
belt, that should widen in the future.
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This page updated:
02/23/2007 01:52:14 AM.