Game 14: Arkansas 20, ECU 17 OT
Saturday, January 2, 2010
By Denny O'Brien
Seniors altered ECU’s culture
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MEMPHIS — There was nothing fitting about
the way East Carolina’s 28 seniors closed their decorated careers.
There wasn’t that coveted 10th win
punctuated by a midfield trophy presentation, which would have left zero
doubt about which senior class was the undisputed best in ECU history.
In a perfect Pirate world, East Carolina
senior kicker Ben Hartman would have trotted onto the field with three
seconds left, nailed the game winner and made his trademark victory lap
around the field. Because that’s what he routinely does when placed in
Just ask North Carolina and Boise State,
But on a night when the Pirates manhandled
a Southeastern Conference opponent — a team that should have beaten Florida
and LSU — the scoreboard took issue with ECU’s otherwise dominating
A pair of turnovers and a trio of late
missed field goals were the Pirates’ ultimate undoing, handing Arkansas a
20-17 overtime victory in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.
“When you lose like that, it definitely
hurts,” said senior running back Dominique Lindsay, who finished with 151
yards on 33 carries. “We walked off that field and felt like we definitely
should have won that game. We left a lot of opportunities out there.
“It’s tough because you always remember
your last game, your last play. We can look back and we have a lot of
memories, a lot of great games. We did a lot of stuff that people said we
would never do.”
It’s true that our natural instinct in
sports is to place much of our focus on the most recent result. True or not,
someone once stated that teams and individuals are only as good as their
But instead of dwelling on the would haves
and should haves with this exiting ECU class, it seems more appropriate to
reflect on everything it accomplished.
Clearly it thrived on the challenge of
facing schools from BCS automatic qualifier conferences. That was amplified
by victories over Virginia Tech and West Virginia last season, watershed
moments that put the Pirates in the national spotlight.
These seniors also had an obvious craving
for championships. They showed that in each of their last three seasons,
with the trophy from the Sheraton Hawai’i Bowl and two consecutive
And while some might use Saturday’s missed
opportunity to dismiss where these seniors belong in ECU’s annals, one
disappointing night doesn’t define a legacy. Even if it did, perhaps the
prevailing theme would be how they bullied around an SEC foe.
“This senior class, if you go back, was
probably the least heralded class that we’ve recruited since we’ve been
here,” Pirates Coach Skip Holtz said. “A lot of guys didn’t have another
“There wasn’t a guy in this recruiting
class that had more than two stars. There wasn’t a three star recruit in
this class, and yet this class has really bounded together. They play with
heart and determination, and they have built a foundation that is built on
While this senior class will be remembered
as the one that scored consecutive Conference USA championships, what truly
was most indelible is the path it took. At a program historically known for
offense, these seniors altered the culture with defense.
They demonstrated that to heralded Arkansas
quarterback Ryan Mallett, a projected NFL first rounder who looked mostly
confused against the ECU defense. He completed only 15 of his 36 passes for
202 yards, which was well below this gunslinger’s average.
He was especially inept on third down,
where the SEC’s top scoring offense was unsuccessful on all 13 tries.
The toughness the Pirates discovered on
defense over the past four years also carried over to the offense. That was
evident during a second quarter march during which the Pirates traveled 99
yards in 13 plays for the game’s opening score.
The ECU offensive line pushed around the
Razorbacks’ front seven for much of that possession as the Pirates drained
nearly seven minutes from the game clock. It did so again late during drives
that set up game winning field goal attempts.
All totaled, the Pirates out-gained the
Razorbacks by 110 yards, owned a 15-plus minute advantage in time of
possession, and were the tougher, more physical bunch. If it weren’t for the
uniforms and logos, you would have sworn that East Carolina was representing
the SEC, not C-USA.
Seriously, who could have envisioned that
scenario four years ago?
There is no question that this ECU senior
class fell short in several games that it had no business losing. Saturday
was one of them.
And yes, each member of it made more than
its share of mistakes throughout their careers. Patrick Pinkney’s two
interceptions and Hartman’s missed field goals are just a few of many
You might recall that before this senior
class arrived at East Carolina, this was a program that had grown accustomed
to getting pushed around. Now the Pirates are the ones who do the pushing.
That’s one of many reasons why this senior
class should be considered East Carolina’s all-time best.
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01/03/2010 05:59:34 AM