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Game 9: ECU 41, UAB 6


Game Slants
Sunday, October 21, 2007

By Denny O'Brien

Blazers give ECU needed relief

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

GREENVILLE — East Carolina’s eight-week menu of tummy twisters was due an emotional breather. That’s exactly what the Pirates’ 41-6 victory over Alabama-Birmingham provided Saturday.

With no luxury of a bye week thus far, ECU received the competitive equivalent against the Blazers. It was a day of rare frills for a team that TV sportscaster and Bonesville columnist Brian Bailey had labeled the "Pulmonary Pirates."

The game evolved into a needed break for ECU’s starters. And before it was over, Pirates coach Skip Holtz even exhausted his entire quarterback depth chart, playing unknown walk-ons and sending ECU’s diehard fans thumbing through their programs.

“It was beautiful,” Holtz said. “I know my mother-in-law is going to love it. That’s all that she asks for is the blowouts."

“It’s great to have the opportunity to go out there, play a game, and by the end of the third quarter, get some of those guys that have practiced hard (some playing time,)" added Holtz. "There are two’s and three’s that are one play away from playing every play. It was great to see them get into the game and have the opportunity to play a little bit.”

It was even better for ECU’s starters to spend the fourth quarter relaxing, not reaching deep for a pivotal stop or last-second score. That scenario has overplayed itself to the point that another nail-biter could have easily depleted ECU’s emotional tank.

When ECU’s premier playmakers were on the field, they hardly disappointed. Just the opposite. And on a day that featured no shortage of memorable individual performances, it was a hometown hero who set the Homecoming tone.

After a Van Eskridge interception on the game’s opening drive, Jonathan Williams christened the victory with a dazzling 35-yard touchdown run. The true freshman finished his coming out party with 63 yards on five carries and displayed the cutback ability, strength, and acceleration that made him a local high school legend.

Not to be outshined, receiver Dwayne Harris was nothing short of a human highlight reel, a fast forward version of former ECU great Keith Stokes. Though he touched the football only eight times, each opportunity looked as if it might produce a score.

Harris's ability to improvise kept plays alive and rejuvenated a crowd that needed occasional nudging. Ditto for Patrick Pinkney whose performance in relief of starting quarterback Rob Kass provided the offensive jolt that ultimately scorched the Blazers.

“I thought Patrick Pinkney came in and gave us a great spark,” Holtz said. “He threw the deep ball extremely well. I thought he did a really nice job of coming in and running the offense and giving us a spark.

“He threw those couple of deep balls to Jamar Bryant dang near perfect. I thought the one might have been picked. The two of them kind of ran into it together, and then I saw Jamar running out of there with it.”

You will be hard-pressed to find a more efficient performance than Pinkney’s on Saturday. He completed six-of-seven passes for 159 yards and two touchdowns, and his accuracy on vertical throws called to question previous criticism oh his ability to deliver the deep ball.

Even more impressive was the overall proficiency with which the ECU offense operated with him under center, scoring four touchdowns in the four drives he led.

“(Coach Holtz) said that we both can run the offense,” Pinkney said. “He said whoever had the hot hand, we’re probably going to roll with for most of the game. I guess I had the hot hand.”

So did the ECU defense.

After a successive series of statistical nightmares, the Pirates finally looked more like the group that stymied Virginia Tech than the quarterback-friendly version that had become more familiar of late. East Carolina confused and pressured Blazers quarterback Sam Hunt from the opening snap, intercepting his first pass and limiting him to only 94 yards on the day.

Hunt's struggles on third down — normally the Achilles’ Heel of this defense — shouldn’t be overlooked. UAB converted only three of its 16 third down attempts, a statistic that the Blazers improved dramatically on their final possession when ECU had emptied its bench.

More than anything, this was what East Carolina needed Saturday. With no week off to regroup and refocus for the stretch run, the Pirates needed something to replenish their emotional reserves.

East Carolina didn’t have a bye week, but UAB provided the closest thing to it.

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10/28/2007 01:43:33 AM

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