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Loss changes ECU's role to potential spoiler


From Associated Press with staff contributions

HATTIESBURG, MS — One constant that has weathered the decades is Southern Mississippi's general domination of East Carolina on the gridiron — a constant which was perpetuated for another year Saturday when the Golden Eagles stifled, throttled, suffocated, strangled and otherwise choked off every vital sign of ECU's offense.

While the Pirates were managing a meager 63 yards passing, USM's Micky D'Angelo threw for 208 yards and a touchdown and backup quarterback Dustin Almond ran for a touchdown as the Golden Eagles finished their regular season with a 24-7 Conference USA victory over the Pirates.

The loss squelched ECU's chances of achieving a 6-6 record and earning a bowl bid and knocked the Pirates' out of what had been a four-way scramble with Texas Christian, Louisville and Cincinnati for the league title.

U of L (7-5, 5-3 C-USA) was also unexpectedly kicked by the wayside Saturday, falling in a 27-10 shocker at Houston, which notified Dana Dimel last week the game against the Cards would be his final one as coach of the Cougars.

The falling dominoes cast ECU (4-7, 4-3) into the role of helping to settle the conference championship once and for all when it hosts Cincinnati next Friday (7 PM) in the regular season finale for both teams. The Bearcats (6-6, 5-2) held off UAB 31-23 on Saturday and can tie Texas Christian (9-2, 6-2) for the title with a win over the Pirates in the nationally-televised game (ESPN2).

TCU barely guaranteed itself a share of the crown with a touchdown in the final minute which culminated a 27-20 comeback win over visiting Memphis. As the day's events turned out, a loss by the Horned Frogs would have kept ECU's primary conference goal alive and set up a potential five-way tie for the league title predicated on the Pirates defeating Cincinnati.

Derrick Nix ran for 139 yards and a touchdown for the Golden Eagles (7-5, 5-3 Conference USA), who probably are headed to the Houston Bowl. Nix's 4-yard TD run made it 24-0 with about 11 minutes left.

East Carolina played without 1,000-yard rusher Art Brown, who was sidelined with groin and abdomen injuries. He was badly missed, as the Pirates managed just 154 total yards, including 91 on the ground, and never mounted a scoring threat.

Almond and D'Angelo have taken turns starting this season for Southern Miss. Neither has distinguished himself, and the Golden Eagles' offense has sputtered. So instead of deciding on one quarterback, coach Jeff Bower played both, at times alternating from one play to the next.

Almond, the more athletic of the two players, started the game and directed most of the first-down plays. He ran for 31 yards and completed 2 of 3 passes for 11 yards. D'Angelo was 12-for-22 with an interception.

East Carolina's only score came on an 82-yard fumble return by Kelly Hardy with 3:30 left to play.

In a surprising move by Pirates coach Steve Logan, Christshawn Gilliam, who has started the last nine games at outside linebacker, was moved to tailback. Gilliam, a senior, had not carried the ball since his sophomore season. He finished with 59 yards on 15 carries.

Both Golden Eagles quarterbacks had a hand in the team's first scoring drive. Almond started the series with a 12-yard option keeper. D'Angelo completed two passes, including a 19-yarder to Chris Johnson to convert a third-and-12 at the Pirates 26. Almond then finished the drive with a 7-yard run to make it 7-0 in the first quarter.

The second TD drive was all on the arm of D'Angelo. He hit Marvin Young, who made a nice fingertip grab for 44 yards, then D'Angelo found LeRoy Handy for 26.

On the next play, Johnson made a juggling catch on a middle screen and went 15 yards for the score to put the Golden Eagles up 14-0 in the second quarter.

Johnson had five catches for 103 yards.

Nix is 12 yards shy of becoming Southern Miss' career rushing leader. He trails Ben Gary, who had 3,595 yards from 1974-77.

02/23/2007 10:51 AM

Copyright 2002 Associated Press. contributed to this report.  All rights reserved.  This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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