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Inside Game Day
Saturday, August 31, 2013

By Al Myatt

Compacted game week ahead

Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

GREENVILLE The part of Pirate Nation that lives for football got a needed transfusion Saturday night. It was a time to harken back over 50 years and focus forward on a short week that will mark the start of play in Conference USA.

Sandwiched between the golden anniversary celebration of Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium's opening and the pending clash with Florida Atlantic was a 52-38 East Carolina win over Old Dominion and scrambling Monarchs quarterback Taylor Heinicke.

Shane Carden had better numbers than his signal-calling counterpart but Heinicke presented the embodiment of an upset, much like what Kansas State experienced against North Dakota State or Connecticut did against Towson on opening week.

Carden came out throwing and finished with 46 completions on 54 attempts for 447 yards and five touchdowns. He broke his own school record for passing yards, which was set in a 65-59 double overtime win over Marshall to conclude the 2012 regular season.

Carden received intravenous fluids to rehydrate afterward.

Justin Hardy was his favorite target, tying his own school record for catches set last year against the Thundering Herd with 16 for 191 yards.

The offense is essentially a year older with eight starters back from an 8-5 team and without the quarterback competition that preceded the 2012 season.

Its maturity showed in the timing, effectiveness and consistency against ODU, albeit a program that is in the midst of a transition to the Football Bowl Subdivision and Conference USA.

Questions about the loss of Justin Jones and Jabril Soloman were answered as 11 receivers had catches. True freshman Davon Grayson had three scoring grabs.

Isaiah Jones, the son of Pirate linebacker Robert Jones, a mainstay on the 11-1 team in 1991 who went on to play for the Dallas Cowboys, also had a scoring reception on a fade pass.

Danny Webster had eight catches for 79 yards and Reese Wiggins had seven receptions for 48 yards as Carden went through his progressions effectively.

"It's more like we're one," Hardy said of the offensive unit sans its search for a leader that took place a year ago. "Shane knows where we're going to be. He knows where to put the ball and make plays."

Almost 50 years ago, it was the Pirates, not ODU, who were looking to knock off a higher-division program. East Carolina did so with a 20-10 win over Wake Forest on Sept. 21,1963, in the first game at then-Ficklen Stadium.

The Pirates have since progressed to become a power in the Southern Conference and were an ambitious independent before joining Conference USA. The program is at another crossroads with pending membership in the American Athletic Conference next year.

Beforehand, the Pirates will aim for another C-USA championship.

In the reduced time frame, Sunday becomes Tuesday in terms of a normal Saturday playing date.

The Pirates will honor their normal 24-hour buffer or close to it before turning their undivided attention to Florida Atlantic.

"We'll keep it light (Sunday) because of the length of the game tonight," said fourth-year ECU coach Ruffin McNeill. "Monday will be that Tuesday/Wednesday for us. Tuesday has to be almost like a Thursday, a big team day. Wednesday will be a rehearsal and walk-through day.

"We've got to make sure we get our legs back and be ready to go," McNeill said.

The Pirates began preparing for FAU during fall camp in anticipation of the time constraints this week. The Owls lost 34-6 at Miami on Thursday night so they will have one more day of preparation, although they have the added factor of traveling.

"It's a short week," Hardy said. "We've got to get off our feet and relax tonight. We'll enjoy the win but nothing too crazy. We'll come in (Sunday) and get loose. We'll practice Monday and Tuesday and be ready to go Thursday.

"After tonight, this game is last week," Hardy said.

Senior safety Damon Magazu led ECU with 11 tackles, including a team-high seven solo stops.

It appeared ECU's defense got better as the night went on, limiting ODU to just 76 of its 460 yards of total offense in the fourth quarter.

Being physically conditioned to prevail at the close of games is an expressed goal of Pirates strength and conditioning coach Jeff Connors.

"We made some adjustments," Magazu said. "That's a credit (to) our defensive coordinator (Rick Smith) and our defensive staff. They were making adjustments the entire game. They fixed what needed to be fixed. I think we started to play a lot better as the game went on. It also goes to getting the rust off and getting the jitters out."

The Pirates and 44,597 fans witnessed a game-changing defensive touchdown when Ty Holmes took an ODU fumble 26 yards for a touchdown on the first possession of the second half to expand ECU's lead to 28-17.

"I saw the pocket converge, the ball squirt out and Ty pick it up and run," Magazu said. "That's all I could see. I was backing up in coverage, trying to make my reads."

The defensive touchdown gave the Pirates a two-possession lead. Although Heinicke and the Monarchs were able to answer, ECU more than kept pace offensively to lock down the season opener.

There is still a realization that the Pirates have work to do before they play again.

"We've got to fix the mistakes first," Magazu said. "We'll do that Sunday when we come in. Then we'll start focusing on Thursday night's game."

E-mail Al Myatt.

PAGE UPDATED 09/01/13 04:26 AM.

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