LOUISVILLE It's been four games four emotionally exhausting
East Carolina's season is now one-third over, but the Pirates already
have experienced a year's worth of frustration.
You name it, chances are ECU has felt it. From the humbling effects of an
all-out pasting to the gut-wrenching distress of a nail-biting loss, East
Carolina has run the gamut on Webster's dictionary for emotions.
In a 59-7 loss to No. 22 Louisville Saturday, the Pirates again were
dealt the sour taste of complete domination. Just a week removed from its
most competitive showing to date, East Carolina regressed to a level of play
lower than its opener at West Virginia.
"Our team was ready to play this football game," Pirates coach John
Thompson said. "There's no question in my mind, we were ready to play this
"We battled them. ...Our guys did keep battling. They kept coming at us
and we kept battling. We just keep fighting them."
Most of East Carolina's jabs were delivered verbally in a curious display
at midfield during pregame warm-ups. By the Cardinals' second series when
burly running back Eric Shelton rumbled 67 yards for the first of his five
touchdowns it was apparent the Pirates' bark was much worse than their
When the clouds finally parted to reveal the Kentucky skies late in the
fourth quarter, even the sunshine couldn't brighten a day that saw the
Pirates surrender 549 yards of offense.
"I think this was a bad performance against a very good team," Thompson
said. "But I think things are moving forward. Absolutely.
"Louisville is a very good team. They beat the dog out of us."
The dog, the cat, and almost every passenger from Noah's ark. The
Cardinals were so unchallenged that Shelton hardly broke a sweat en route to
his 129-yard, five touchdown performance.
It's almost as if ECU has become the ultimate enigma in college football.
The Pirates have an enthusiastic head coach who possesses a defensive
rιsumι second to few. Even with minimal talent, you would expect a scheme
that at least could bring discomfort to opponents.
But for the most part, the Pirates D has provided the opposition with
little more than a comfort zone.
In Pinkney, the Pirates boast a quarterback with ineffable skills that
would challenge former greats Jeff Blake and David Garrard in terms of raw
ability. Yet, East Carolina can't seem to concoct a protection formula that
will give the talented gunslinger enough time to properly run through his
"As long as you keep trying, you're not failures," Thompson said. "That's
what it is.
"That's the only thing that we can say. You put numbers on it, you put a
record on it, and you do all those kinds of things and that's what they
are. Those are numbers and records. That doesn't talk about your soul or
that doesn't talk about what kind of man you are."
But the numbers and records are adding up and the looks of dejection
are tough to ignore.
No doubt, one of the bright spots during Thompson's tenure has been his
ability to motivate players and instill a resilient desire to fight to the
finish. With each loss, though, the challenge to maintain that mental
toughness grows exponentially.
After a second-consecutive 0-4 start, the toughest opponent for East
Carolina no longer wears a different helmet. The biggest challenges are far
Mentally and emotionally, the Pirates are one fragile bunch.