Game 12: ECU 21, N.C. STATE 16
The Slants of the Game
Sunday, November 26, 2006
By Denny O'Brien
Win in Raleigh symbolic of
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RALEIGH Two years ago, Saturday's
showdown against N.C. State loomed as the primary future gauge for East
Carolina's then-troubled football program.
On that mist-covered afternoon in 2004, ECU
surrendered 52 points, managed only 14, and the attention of the
rank-and-file was focused squarely on who would be its next coach. That it
occurred against the rival Wolfpack was further justification for AD Terry
Holland's decision to make a change.
A picture of how far ECU has traveled since
that forgetful day was sure to be framed in last night's rematch in
Carter-Finley Stadium. And though the Pirates won 21-16, the margin still
didn't paint a complete portrait of ECU's progress since the two teams last
That's because the Pirates were far more
convincing than the final score suggests. ECU also is on a completely
different planet than the hopeless one on which they existed under John
"They've come a long way in the two years
that I've been here," Pirates coach Skip Holtz said. "This program has come
a very long way in two years, and it's not me, it's not coaches. It's these
players who have made a commitment to get it done.
"They've been awesome. I've never seen a
team that works like this one. I've never been around a team that wanted
something more, that had its sights set on the prize at the end, and they
weren't going to take no for an answer."
That ECU was able to maintain that focus on
the heels of its most crushing loss of the season is a testament to just how
far the Pirates have climbed.
Because heading into Saturday, ECU's
pressing question wasn't the importance of playing its biggest in-state
rival. Whether or not the Pirates could shake the emotional hangover from a
heart-crushing defeat at Rice was by far the bigger issue.
Judging solely by the reaction of ECU's
players moments after the Owls nailed the game-winning field goal, the odds
seemed 50-50 at best. You would have found a more jovial bunch in the
waiting room of your local dentist.
If nothing else, Saturday shaped up to be a
barometer for the program's mental and emotional makeup.
"From a team standpoint, I think (the Rice
loss) is still in us today," cornerback Travis Williams said. "I'll admit
that I just got over it last night.
"I know that I had to come out here and not
let Rice beat me twice. Because if you think about that loss, and you're
coming up against another opponent, you're going to get beat again just by
thinking about that loss last week.
"I think we did a good job of handling
The Pirates certainly did when they found
themselves down 10-7 with only 34 seconds remaining before intermission. All
James Pinkney did was hit playmaker Aundrae Allison for an amazing 53-yard
scoring strike to give the Pirates a 14-10 halftime lead and a complete tilt
And ECU definitely compensated for the loss
of its best offensive linemen, senior left tackle Eric Graham. It amazingly
did so with three freshmen who paved the way for a 92-yard day from Brandon
Fractious and the game-clinching score.
That goes without mentioning the talent
deficit the Pirates were facing on paper. Though ECU possessed the better
record, State's roster was peppered with more blue-chip athletes.
"It feels great to know that the same team
put up 52 on us," Williams said. "They came into this game probably thinking
the same thing. But we just weren't going to let that happen.
"They've got more talent? What it is, is
they've got players who have big names. That's all it is."
It certainly seemed that way.
State might own the better reputation for
producing NFL standouts on defense, but it was East Carolina that proved far
more stingy. And while State coach Chuck Amato has been touted for luring
first class speed and skill to Raleigh, Williams, Allison and Fractious
appeared quicker than anything the Wolfpack put on the field.
So quick that ECU has successfully climbed
from the bottom of the Division I-A ranks to a spot in a postseason bowl.
Doing so in two years affirms the fact that the decision to hire Holtz was
the right one.
Doing so with a convincing win over N.C.
State on its home field seemed down-right fitting.
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02/23/2007 02:03:51 AM