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Game 4: NCSU 30, No. 15 ECU 24 (OT)


Game Slants
Sunday, September 21, 2008

By Denny O'Brien

Finish adds to rivalry

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

RALEIGH — It hardly matters that East Carolina and N.C. State rarely meet on equal footing. The Wolfpack has proven that with its last two upset victories over the Pirates.

The most recent — Saturday’s 30-24 State overtime win — will go down as one of the most memorable in the series annals. Outside of the 1992 Peach Bowl, which ECU won 37-34, you’d be hard pressed to find another game throughout the rivalry’s history that had a more exciting or shocking finish.

For much of the fourth quarter it looked as if the game would end for State much like it did against South Carolina and Clemson. Had the Pack followed that same script, it would have withered while the Pirates put the game away and sailed to Greenville with a perfect 4-0 record.

And for much of the fourth quarter, that seemed the scenario that would eventually play out. East Carolina took complete control of the line of scrimmage and twice marched so deep into N.C. State territory that it could accurately count the members of its marching band.

But the Wolfpack defense proved best the closer its heels were to the goal line. That’s exactly where they were positioned when the Pirates had a first and goal from the four-yard line.

The Pirates would travel most of that on the first play, but faltered on three opportunities from the one yard line. The final attempt went so awry that Wolfpack safety J.C. Neal almost took the exchange from Pirates quarterback Patrick Pinkney.

“It was a base play,” East Carolina coach Skip Holtz said. “It was a play that we run out of our goal line package quite a bit.

“I know that the offensive coaches were talking to those guys to find out what happened. I don’t know. The guy who never turned around and asked the quarterback, was the guy who missed the block.”

For the Pirates, that missed block, along with their other failed attempt to reach paydirt late, was especially deflating given the stakes. They entered the game the national media darling with a Top 15 ranking and a solid favorite to handle a Wolfpack club that had been completely inept on offense.

But against East Carolina the Pack hardly looked an offensive mess. Not in the slightest. With quarterback Russell Wilson playing only his second full game under center, he proved himself ten times the problem that West Virginia quarterback Pat White presented two weeks ago in Greenville.

Wilson was no less nimble in the backfield and infinitely more accurate when slinging it from the pocket. When he combined the two, the East Carolina secondary often found itself in a guessing game, and it rarely guessed right.

“I was really impressed with Wilson,” Holtz said. “I thought he did a great job running around back there. I thought he did an excellent job as a quarterback.

“I think he’s going to be a good one for a lot of years here. He’s a real talent and he really impressed me today.”

It’s not like it was the first time Holtz has walked away impressed with a Wolfpack quarterback. Heck, it has almost become a trend in recent years for a State QB to torch the favored Pirates.

Last year Daniel Evans singed the ECU secondary for 335 yards and three touchdowns. Wilson was hardly a slouch after completing 21-of-31 attempts for 210 yards and three scores. Each of his 26 rushing yards seemed key in keeping drives alive.

But as good as Wilson was — and he was very good — he doesn’t take the game ball home. That goes to a Wolfpack defense that refused to concede victory when most believed it would.

That proved the difference in this BCS-busting loss. ECU’s inability to execute with its rival firmly cornered made it two-consecutive losses to the Red and White and strangled some of the big picture dreams that arose after victories over Virginia Tech and West Virginia.

Given that, ECU would like to forget the latest installment of its rivalry with State. For impartial viewers, it was a classic game with no shortage of big plays, drama, and an unlikely late comeback.

It was everything you might expect in a heated rivalry. Just imagine if the two ever meet when both have BCS bowl stakes on the line.

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09/21/2008 02:51:40 AM

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