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Game 1: ECU 27, Va. Tech 22


Game Slants
Sunday, August 31, 2008

By Denny O'Brien

Manhandled no more

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

CHARLOTTE — It’s difficult to completely measure the magnitude of East Carolina’s 27-22 victory over No. 17 Virginia Tech. Too much football remains in 2008 and there are too many marquee victories in the Pirates’ annals against which to compare it.

How the Pirates respond and the Hokies rebound will provide a more accurate barometer to the game’s historical significance.

But for anyone who personally witnessed this Queen City thriller, it’s hard not to label it one of the special moments in ECU football history.

Only this time it wasn’t because an outmanned Pirates team pulled off some plate-shifting shocker, the type of victory that at one time earned ECU the ‘Giant Killer’ moniker. Because Saturday’s victory was anything but a story of David versus Goliath, that is unless you considered the Pirates the backyard bully entering the game.

At the very least, ECU’s victory over Tech Saturday deserves a boldface asterisk, or some other special notation to completely capture how the program has evolved since Skip Holtz took the program’s reigns in December 2004. In essence, Saturday’s win marked the first time in a long time that ECU stood up physically against an elite program and completely pushed it around.

“Coach (Mike) Golden has been done a great job with us all year long getting us physically ready,” senior defensive end C.J. Wilson said. “I say that we are physically fit to be on the field with anybody in the country.

“Coach talks about it all the time. We belong out there, and it felt great being out there in this type of atmosphere.”

It certainly looked like it. Though it’s tempting to attribute much of ECU’s success to Virginia Tech’s youth, it would be short-sighted to take that position.

Hokies Coach Frank Beamer is a recruiting machine who annually compiles classes filled with blue chippers. And you can’t ignore the fact that the hallmark of the Virginia Tech program is physical toughness on defense, overwhelming dominance on special teams, close attention to detail, and the elimination of mistakes.

“It’s one win,” Holtz said. “Just like if we would have come up short in this game, it would have been one loss.

“It’s a win very similar to like the bowl game where not a lot of people gave us a chance in this football game. These players believed and they went out there and competed.”

But it wasn’t some fairy tale scenario that required black magic or smoke and mirrors. If anything, that exactly is what kept the Pirates from winning more comfortably than the five-point margin.

Truthfully, it shouldn’t have taken the drama of T.J. Lee’s blocked punt and 27-yard touchdown return, not when you consider how completely lopsided the final statistics were. The Pirates out-gained the Hokies 369-243, and that was with their offense spending much of the first quarter on the sidelines.

Take the 14 points that ECU literally spotted the Hokies. An errant lateral and muffed kick return put the Pirates in a two-touchdown hole, the type of scenario that should shipwreck a less talented team or one that is lacking in confidence or poise.

Ditto for that blocked extra point attempt, a PAT opportunity which should have evened the score at 14 but instead pushed the Hokies’ lead to 16-13. Likewise for that blown coverage that led to a 62-yard completion from Tech quarterback Sean Glennon to Dyrell Roberts and an eventual 22-13 VPI lead.

It was the only touchdown the Hokies offense truthfully earned in a game dominated by ECU’s defense.

“Our defense has done a great job,” Holtz said. “That’s where so much experience and so many guys returned.

“I’d love to sit here and tell you that I had something to do with this. But this is a story of a group of young men who went out there and fought their tales off and aren’t going to take ‘No’ for an answer. They’re not going to listen to all the naysayers. They’re going to believe in themselves.”

They certainly should. Because ECU’s win over Virginia Tech showed that it has reached the point where it can compete with a high-profile program – one that again is predicted to contend for the title in a BCS conference – without being physically outmatched.

You have to admit, that’s pretty significant.

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08/31/2008 03:49:55 AM

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