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Memphis 27, East Carolina 24
October 22, 2005
By Phil Stukenborg
Story posted Sunday, Oct. 23, 2005

Rout became horserace after tardy adjustment



MEMPHIS — Aundrae Allison, Conference USA's leading receiver, had what has become a routine outing for him Saturday against the University of Memphis.

Allison, a junior college transfer from Georgia Military Academy, caught 10 passes for 108 yards and a touchdown. He had eight of his catches, 93 of his yards and his touchdown in the second half.

But Allison and his teammates were not in much of a mood to celebrate. After back-to-back wins for the rebounding East Carolina football program, Saturday's 27-24 loss to the University of Memphis before 31,710 at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium interrupted the mid-season momentum.

ECU (3-4 overall, 2-2 C-USA East) had beaten Rice and Southern Methodist and a win over Memphis would have put the Pirates in midseason contention for a postseason invitation.

But the Pirates didn't have an answer for Tiger All-America running back DeAngelo Williams, who rushed a career-high 39 times for 226 yards and two touchdowns. And ECU coach Skip Holtz said he may have erred in how he handled his team in the first half.

``I'll take the blame for this, and the way we performed in the first half,'' Holtz said. ``The game plan I put together we obviously didn't execute it very well. But in the end when we turned and spread it out we were able to move the ball.''

ECU quarterback James Pinkney, who entered the game having completed 57 of his past 84 passes, was 26-of-46 for 297 yards and three touchdowns. In the second half, when the Pirates went to mostly four wide-receiver sets, he was 20-for-33 for 248 yards and his three touchdowns.

Pinkney had two TD passes in the fourth quarter, including a 2-yard toss to Phillip Henry with 10 seconds left that trimmed the Memphis lead to 27-24.

``I really didn't feel James played poorly in the first half,'' Holtz said. ``He had some open receivers and they got some pressure on us, he got flushed out of the pocket a couple of times. We snapped the opening snap over his head. We'd try to run the ball and we'd get two yards.

``And our second series, I said `Let's run the ball, let's calm everybody down and let's get something going here and we lose five yards and all of a sudden we're behind the chains again.''

The decision to go wide open in the second half nearly carried the Pirates to victory. If not for a 15-play, 80-yard, 8-minute Memphis scoring drive — sandwiched between two Pinkney TD drives — ECU might have completed a frantic comeback from trailing 17-0 at the half.

``In the second half," observed Holtz, "I said, `You know what. Forget the run. Forget the play-action. I'm getting in four wides, I'm going to spread the field and I'm going to throw it every down.'

``I told James at halftime I'm putting the ball in your hands and if we're going to win it's going to be because you are going to get it done. In the first half he couldn't get into a rhythm because of protection problems.''

Allison said the second half was much more productive, much more enjoyable from his perspective.

``We just spread 'em out and we gave the receivers a chance to get in open spaces and make plays,'' Allison said. ``We feel like we could have, and should have, won.''

Allison said he was impressed with the ability of Pinkney to put the Pirates in position to recover.

``He got blitzed a lot,'' Allison said. ``But he made a lot of plays by using his legs, being mobile and making passes with pinpoint accuracy.''

East Carolina, which returns home Saturday to play surprising East Division leader Central Florida, started too slowly. It didn't get its initial first down until four minutes remained in the first quarter. Of the Pirates seven first-half possessions, five ended with punts and another on downs.

While Allison recorded his fifth straight 100-yard receiving game, he wasn't able to see that it mattered much considering the outcome.

``This one was difficult,'' he said. ``This team is upset because we fought as a team and we played hard as a team. What makes it hard is we have come so far from being the underdogs all the time. It was just a hard one to lose.''

Correspondent Phil Stukenborg is a staff writer for the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

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