Sunday, October 21, 2007
By Denny O'Brien
Blazers give ECU needed relief
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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
“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
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
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
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
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