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Southern Miss 51, East Carolina 10
Saturday, Oct. 23, 2004
By Denny O'Brien
Story posted Sunday, Oct. 24, 2004

Pirates lacking much fight


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


HATTIESBURG — In the end, it didn't matter if East Carolina lost by seven or 70. That rival Southern Miss pounded the Pirates 51-10 was beside the point.

Saturday night's Conference USA showdown with the Golden Eagles was one of those rare occasions when the final score was borderline irrelevant for ECU.

There was no C-USA title on the line, no bowl bid for the taking. This wasn't about impressing the television audience with an entertaining show.

Instead, the stakes were much higher for the Purple and Gold against a program it once rivaled in the league pecking order. Pride and progress were on the line in a game for which East Carolina had two weeks to prepare following a win over Tulane.

The spectacle on the field was akin to many of the Pirates' previous outings over the past two seasons — they were soundly beaten in every phase of the game.

"I'm disappointed in the way we performed in the first half," Pirates coach John Thompson said. "Extremely disappointed in that."

"But I'm proud of the way we performed in the second half," he added. "I saw fight in us in the second half. We've got to do that all the time. We've got to start doing things right all the time, not just one half."

The Pirates played the first 30 minutes as if they were attending a lecture on Egyptian cabinet making. There seemed to be little interest in competing, much less any deep desire to spoil a heavily favored rival's homecoming celebration.

Offensively, ECU was more anemic than a rattlesnake in December. Aside from the brief reemergence of senior running back Art Brown in the second quarter, the Pirates had no hiss, much less any bite for the Southern Miss D.

There were fumbles lost, dropped passes, and more sacks of battle-worn ECU quarterback James Pinkney.

On the rare occasion when East Carolina did mount a respectable drive, it was unable to sustain any momentum once the ball changed hands.

Much of that was due to a defense that lacked the grit and swagger it displayed against Tulane. Though the Golden Eagles' attack wasn't overwhelming — 383 total yards — USM found little resistance from the Pirates when its foot was pressed firmly against the accelerator.

"You look at it early," Thompson said. "We're 35-0 at the half.

"But you look at it all, you can pinpoint how they got in the end zone. Whether it was a turnover, or whether it was a big play in doing it in our kicking game."

It was an eerily familiar script for East Carolina. Only the opposing colors and setting changed.

A turnover here, a punt return there and a manageable seven-point deficit snowballed into a 35-point hole — much like the storylines against West Virginia and Louisville.

"We got gashed by them," Thompson said about USM's return specialists. "The one time there we thought we had him down and we have some guys who don't give the effort that they're supposed to give to come down there and do that.

"We've got to get the effort and get it done. We're going to keep fighting as I've said all along. We've got to get some things fixed, though. We've come too far and it's too far into this thing to let this continue to happen."

Much too far to see the same mistakes persist on a weekly basis.

Typically the trend for a team dominated by youth is underscored by steady improvement with each game. However the case can be made that in nearly every facet, the Pirates regressed Saturday to a level parallel to their opener.

Make that lower if you factor the lack of enthusiasm with which ECU played.

At this stage, the Pirates can't afford to perform with a half-deflated spirit. With no margin of error, East Carolina is hardly in a position to sleepwalk onto an opponent's field and expect an even fight.

Now the Pirates sit 1-5, with the prospects of a respectable finish low. Next is an Army club with a renewed gridiron outlook fueled from the emotion of two-consecutive wins.

It's an occasion on which East Carolina will hold a definite talent advantage. Chances are, though, next week's winner will be determined by the team that shows the most of what the Pirates lacked against Southern Miss.

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02/23/2007 01:57:37 AM

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