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Scoreboard truly didn't tell the story

By Denny O'Brien

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

Game No. 10 Vitals: ECU vs. USF

• Scoreboard truly didn't tell the story
• Deflected kick saves the day for USF
• Box Score & Statistics
• Post-Game Audio: J.T. & Players

GREENVILLE — Sometimes the final tally fails to tell the tale. In East Carolina's 38-37 double-overtime loss to South Florida Saturday, it should be remembered only as a minor detail.

Yes, officially the Pirates were credited with the loss, the result to which they have grown overly accustomed over the past two seasons. For those with access only to the box score, it would be tempting to lump yesterday's performance with the rest.

Those who witnessed the shootout know better.

"This team showed so much backbone, showed so much character to be where we've been and with the stuff that happened to us tonight," Pirates coach John Thompson said. "We had some warriors that stepped up.

"Our theme this week was step up, be accountable, do the job. They did it. I don't know that I've ever had a situation where we came out on the bottom end of the scoreboard where I felt like these guys didn't deserve that. They're winners. They were winners down there in that dressing room. They were winners in that football game tonight."

Only the scoreboard seemed to miss the point.

Had it paid better attention, it would have seen a 1-8 Pirates football team fighting for survival as if it were 8-1. Almost every play was treated as if a Conference USA championship and Liberty Bowl berth was on the line.

Just how that oversized calculator could ignore the poise of redshirt freshman quarterback James Pinkney is hard to fathom. Though not spectacular — 16-of-34, 146 yards and a touchdown — the case can be made that his steady play under center was the best this season given the caliber of the opponent.

And what about Marvin Townes? All he had to show for his fourth 100-yard game was a rack of battered ribs. Certainly the Pirates' workhorse deserved more than a trip to the training table.

But no justice from the Jumbotron.

Perhaps Thompson should have sent fullback Vonta Leach on a zone dive over the end zone bleachers and into the support posts. Judging by the ease with which he trampled over Bulls defenders, that big-screen television would have posed no threat to Vontzilla.

"Vonta Leach is a warrior," Thompson said. "I absolutely love what the guy did out there tonight. (He) put the team on his back and took us in there. (He) did some wonderful, wonderful things."

Almost too many to count.

With Townes and backup Robert Tillman both out with sore ribs, Leach shifted to tailback and took the game over, piling up 111 yards on 26 carries. With each carry, the 250-pound senior got stronger, scattering would-be tacklers like a weed-eater on a mailbox.

"He kept wanting it and we kept feeding him," Thompson said. "Somebody better get him on their team. If anybody's got a job opening, hire him, whether you are in the NFL or whatever you are."

On the game's final carry, he showed the pizzazz of an elusive scatback, bouncing off tackle and sprinting for the pylon with a vengeance. His third touchdown pulled the Pirates to within one with the extra point pending.

If it weren't for one of the rarest plays in football — a partially blocked extra point — they might still be playing today. Better yet, subtract a couple of highly questionable calls, including the Bulls' final touchdown — a trap in the end zone by receiver Elgin Hicks that was ruled a catch — and maybe we call it an early day.

"I don't know what I'm supposed to say or do," Thompson said. "But you know what? It's a shame. It's a shame. (The officials) do their best. They're good guys and they try their best. That's just a part of the game."

On this day, it played a larger role than normal. In a game filled with subplots and twists, the men in stripes were the underlying theme.

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This page updated: 02/23/2007 01:52:16 AM.

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