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Inside Game Day
Saturday, December 22, 2012

By Al Myatt

The hits kept coming

Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

NEW ORLEANS Perspectives varied after East Carolina's sixth bowl game in seven years resulted in a 43-34 loss to Louisiana-Lafayette.

A weekend in which you could see one of the top musical groups in history for free during a span in which an ancient culture said the world would end made me rationalize that the postseason setback had minor significance in comparison.

That the Pirates made a game of it after falling behind by three touchdowns in the first half was a positive for a still-building program. A blowout appeared imminent early in the second quarter, which tied for the highest in bowl history with 45 points by the two teams. Those watching on ESPN who didn't have a rooting interest probably appreciated the offensive show that produced 1,012 yards.

Speaking of shows, the Beach Boys were one of the best things about the 2012 R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl.

They performed at Champions Square adjacent to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Friday night. There are huge images of LSU coach Les Miles, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and former heavyweight boxer Muhammad Ali among those overlooking the brick plaza. Miles is hoisting the BCS crystal after winning the 2007 national championship in the Sugar Bowl. Brees capped the 2009 NFL season by leading the Saints to a Super Bowl win.

Ali beat Leon Spinks for the last of his heavyweight titles in 1978 in the first championship fight at the then-Louisiana Superdome.

The Beach Boys burst onto the charts when Clarence Stasavich's single wing was decimating East Carolina opponents in the mid-1960s. The personnel in the band has undergone changes over the decades, as has the ECU offense, but the current group moved seamlessly through a multitude of their hits to a receptive audience.

At one point, cheerleaders from East Carolina, several members of the marching band and the Pirate mascot were summoned onto the stage at Champions Square, along with some corresponding representation from Louisiana-Lafayette, and Mike Love delivered the classic, "Be True to Your School." I thought the ECU cheerleaders had superior choreography and outdanced their ULL counterparts.

The Pirates did their best to be true to their school's tradition and expectations but couldn't overtake the Ragin' Cajuns at the Superdome on Saturday.

That the game was played at all was an improvement on the dismal forecast of the world's demise, according to the Mayan calendar.

The matchup was a virtual home game for Louisiana-Lafayette, its red-clad fan base comprising most of the crowd of 48,828. The Ragin' Cajuns may have gotten some home cooking, too, as images showed that a 14-yard pass play from game MVP Terrance Broadway to Javone Lawson appeared to hit the ground but was ruled a touchdown. The resulting points put Louisiana-Lafayette ahead to stay at 37-31 with 3:07 left in the third quarter.

The Pirates, who had trailed 28-7 at one point, answered ULL's questionable score with a 26-yard field goal by Warren Harvey to trim the lead to 37-34 with 13:36 to go.

ECU had a possession to take the lead after an interception by linebacker Gabriel Woullard at the ULL 39 with 12:18 remaining. But on second-and-five at the ULL 34, Pirates quarterback Shane Carden was picked off by Jermarious Moten at the Ragin' Cajuns' 8-yard line.

Carden, who completed 25 of 42 passes for 278 yards with two touchdowns and one pick, said he saw the safety come up to cover a drag route. His intended receiver was true freshman Jabril Solomon.

"It was a post route," Carden said. "It was the right read. I've just got to put the ball out there. There were a couple of other throws I wish I could take back."

ECU (8-5) picked up just two first downs on its last three possessions and didn't get back into ULL territory. The last series started with five seconds remaining. Carden passed to Justin Hardy for 10 yards, then Hardy lateraled to Danny Webster, who tossed back to Vintavious Cooper, who pitched back to Hardy. There was no reprise of the winning sequence by California against Stanford in 1982, although the Pirates tried.

ULL's Boris Anyama brought Hardy to the turf to end the game and the season.

It was a year in which ECU won five of six before the trip to the Big Easy, but the Pirates have now lost six of their last seven bowl games.

"We finished 7-1 in the league and won a share of our division championship," said ECU coach Ruffin McNeill. "It was definitely a successful season. ... I thought we got better as a football team and as a program."

It was a tough way to go out for seniors such as Andrew Bodenheimer, who led the ECU receivers with five catches for 65 yards, and running back Reggie Bullock, who had 17 carries for 104 yards.

"It's always tough to lose the last one, but at the same time you have to get the overall picture and what we've accomplished," McNeill said. " ... I'm proud of our team. It's a tough loss to swallow because the kids worked so hard."

McNeill said he was confident, even after the Pirates fell behind 28-7. ECU sliced the margin to 28-21 on Carden TD passes of 19 yards to Hardy and 16 yards to Webster.

"I felt very comfortable," said the Pirates coach. "I didn't want to be behind, but knowing our guys and what they've gone through, having faced these situations of adversity, I knew we would fight back. I knew we'd bounce back. ... We just needed to relax. We talk about execution. ... We talked at half about just making the routine play."

Although the Pirates came up short, they did ultimately compete. The seniors who leave the program will be missed, but at this point, they aren't irreplaceable. ECU can look forward with a significant degree of talent and experience. The focus of spring ball won't be a four-man quarterback competition, all of which brings to mind another classic performed by the Beach Boys, that applies to the 2013 season.

"Good vibrations."

E-mail Al Myatt.

PAGE UPDATED 12/22/12 10:11 PM.

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