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GAME 4 VITALS: East Carolina at Louisville

 • Box Score & Statistics
 • AP: Cards shred maligned ECU defense
 • O'Brien: Emotional tank running low for Pirates
  Post-Game Audio: Thompson & players
 • 2004 ECU schedule, scores, attendance, TV


Louisville 59, East Carolina 7
Saturday, Oct. 2, 2004
By Denny O'Brien
Story posted Sunday, Oct. 3, 2004

Emotional tank running low for Pirates


Bonesville Magazine

• PAT DYE: Short on Tenure, Long on Impact

• Recruit Profiles
• Rookie Books
• Tracking the Classes
• Florida Pipeline
• NCHSAA & ECU: Smooth Sailing Again


• STEVE BALLARD: New Leader Takes Charge

• SCOTT COWEN: Busting Down the Door

• KEITH LECLAIR on ECU's Field of Dreams

• BETH GRANT: Actress Still a Pirate


LOUISVILLE — It's been four games — four emotionally exhausting Saturdays.

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 football game.

"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 bite.

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 progressions.

"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 from physical.

Mentally and emotionally, the Pirates are one fragile bunch.

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02/23/2007 01:57:35 AM

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