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Game 2: ECU 34, UNC-Chapel Hill 31


Game Slants
Sunday, September 9, 2007

By Denny O'Brien

Pinkney hurls himself into history

By Denny O'Brien
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 map.

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 moving forward.

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 Field.

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.

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09/09/2007 04:57:33 AM

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