Game 2: ECU 34, UNC-Chapel Hill 31
Sunday, September 9, 2007
By Denny O'Brien
Pinkney hurls himself into
All Rights Reserved.
GREENVILLE – It’s difficult to measure the
historical significance of East Carolina’s 34-31 victory over North Carolina
Saturday. That much will be decided over time.
On one hand, it was a marquee victory over
an in-state rival against whom the Pirates have had virtually no success.
On the other, it could prove an emotional
springboard that thrusts East Carolina through the treacherous terrain that
remains on the September schedule.
Only time will tell.
Father Time also will dictate where
quarterback Patrick Pinkney ranks against ECU’s all-time best. Considering
his first start nearly resulted in the single game passing record – his 406
yards were a quick slant shy – he could surpass many of the celebrated
signal callers who helped etch East Carolina’s name on the college football
It was the most unsuspecting storyline for
perhaps the most unsuspecting hero in East Carolina football lore.
“That Patrick Pinkney… that little son of a
gun is a competitor, now,” Pirates coach Skip Holtz said. “He’s a
competitor. I said it after the Virginia Tech game, I’ve seen a side of him
I hadn’t seen. We saw it again this week.
“His poise in the pocket, the way he keeps
his eyes downfield, the way he sees things – he does a heck of a job the way
that he runs this offense. You put the ball in his hands and let him run
around for awhile, he’s going to find somebody.”
Against the Tar Heels, Pinkney found
somebody 31 times. He found somebody short, long, on screens and slants. He
showed poise in the pocket and pizzazz each time he was flushed from it.
And on a night when all-time great Jeff
Blake roamed the sidelines donning his famous No. 2, it was No. 15 who stole
the show. It was a performance and ending that easily rivaled Blake’s 1991
heroics against highly-ranked Pittsburgh.
Though not advertised as a high-profile
quarterback duel, this showdown evolved into a classic gunslinger shootout.
It began with Tar Heel marksman T.J. Yates firing strikes at his corps of
talented targets, but in the end it was Pinkney’s improvisational playmaking
that propelled the Pirates to victory.
“When we got into about the third series, I
went over to Coach (Todd) Fitch and said we’ve got to open this thing up,”
Holtz said. “We’ve got to open it up with what they’re doing.
“I said earlier in the week that they’re
really strong up front. We were going to try and make sure that we had an
offense that we could hide Patrick if we had to and take some pressure off
him. Let’s not come right in and say the saddle’s on (Patrick).”
Holtz might want to alter that thinking
The questions surrounding Pinkney’s ability
to move the offense through the air were answered with an emphatic yes. And
while he might not possess the physical makeup of a pocket passer, he
apparently has that special playmaking ability around which defensive
coordinators must focus their gameplan.
The Heels certainly threw everything they
could at the nimble-footed Pinkney. They stunted, blitzed, and occasionally
dropped eight. They sent linebackers and corners from every angle on Bagwell
But amid the pressure of exorcising the
demons of UNC-Chapel Hill, Pinkney never flinched. Not when the Pirates fell
behind 17-7, and certainly not when handed the ball and only 49 seconds to
direct a game-winning drive.
“The last drive, everybody was like
panicking,” ECU receiver Jamar Bryant said. “But Pat, he is so cool that he
calmed everybody down.
“Pat is so poised. You can’t rattle him.”
So far that appears to be the case. Because
comparatively, no other ECU quarterback has opened his career on a more
emotional stage. To not wilt against Virginia Tech and to thrive against
North Carolina is quite a statement given both the settings and the stakes.
It’s a scenario nobody could have predicted
three weeks ago when Pinkney was listed as a third stringer and destined for
a career of clipboard duty. But you have to admit it is a fitting one.
Leading into the game, Pinkney’s father,
Reggie Pinkney, was the center of the most memorable and controversial call
in series history. He was flagged on a questionable pass interference call
in the 1973 meeting, and the Tar Heels won as a result.
Somewhere among the 43,387 who attended
Saturday’s game, you know Reggie Pinkney was smiling. His son’s performance
erased much of the sting from that game and the other meetings since.
Regardless of what happens to Patrick
Pinkney, he’ll be remembered for that.
a message to Denny O'Brien.
Dig into Denny
O'Brien's Bonesville archives.
09/09/2007 04:57:33 AM