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Inside Game Day
Friday, November 29, 2013

By Al Myatt

Pirates stopped cold, will try again for No. 10

Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

HUNTINGTON, WV The East Carolina football team that played Marshall on Friday for the East Division championship of Conference USA bore little resemblance to the one that compiled a 9-2 record during the previous portion of the regular season.

Even in its losses, 15-10 to Virginia Tech on Sept. 14 and 36-33 in double overtime at Tulane on Oct. 12, ECU had been competitive.

But that changed on the synthetic turf of James F. Edwards Field at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. The husband and wife contributed $65 million in long green to Marshall.

Green definitely was the color du jour on a sunny Friday afternoon off of 3rd Avenue.

The green-clad Thundering Herd was waiting on the Pirates like a street corner bully and administered a 59-28 beatdown.

Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick was hopeful that the Herd would get to host the C-USA championship game next Saturday.

"That would be big," said Hamrick, a former Marshall football player who was AD at ECU from 1995 to 2003. "We're pretty good at home."

Marshall (9-3) is 6-0 in the Edwards' lair and 3-3 on the road.

ECU will have an opportunity for atonement in a yet to be announced bowl game but will need a better effort to get 10 wins for only the second time in program history.

The 1991 team that went 11-1 is the measuring stick at ECU.

The Pirates have won nine games 12 times (1963, 1964, 1965, 1972, 1973, 1976, 1978, 1995, 1999, 2008, 2009 and to this point, 2013).

"It's hard to get nine and we have a chance to get 10," said fourth-year ECU coach Ruffin McNeill.

He said he's confident in ECU's ability to regroup.

"I'm proud of the way this team has been resilient all year long," McNeill said. "We've faced some adversity from injuries to other items and they've just kept bouncing back. ... Today was tough and I told Doc (Holliday, Marshall coach), they did a good job."

The Pirates got an extra helping of adversity at Marshall, falling behind 24-0.

The Herd had ECU schemed and executed a well-conceived game plan that included establishing a running attack and pressuring ECU quarterback Shane Carden.

Add the emotion of Senior Day and a supportive crowd of 25,117 and it was a lethal combination for the Pirates' division title hopes.

The contention could be made that a short week after a 42-28 win at N.C. State was not the best scenario for ECU. The Pirates also experienced significant rain during their only heavy practice on Tuesday before the Marshall game.

The factors en masse produced an uncharacteristically bland effort for ECU.

Two normally-reliable commodities for ECU, the passing of Carden and the rush defense, struggled.

Carden was picked off three times and didn't have a touchdown pass for the first time in 20 games.

Essray Taliaferro gashed the Pirates from the get-go and finished with 26 carries for 161 yards.

Marshall ran for 267 yards against a unit that was No. 9 in the Football Bowl Subdivision, allowing just 103.9 yards per game.

"We were able to run the ball and anytime we are able to do that, we can stay pretty balanced," said Herd coach Doc Holliday.

Herd quarterback Rakeem Cato complimented the ground game by completing 17 of 28 passes for 272 yards with two TDs and one interception.

The Pirates had a flurry late in the first half.

Montese Overton forced a fumble and Chip Thompson recovered to set up an 87-yard drive that produced ECU's first points on a 2-yard run by Vintavious Cooper, who ran 20 times for 93 yards. Carden had a 59-yard completion to Isaiah Jones on the Pirates' initial scoring drive.

Carden completed 29 of 53 for 291 yards.

"We usually do a great job of starting fast," Carden said. "We came in and we weren't clicking on those first couple of drives. We couldn't get anything going and we had to play from behind. We just had a lot of things not go our way. A few tipped balls just happened to pop in their hands. We're a lot better than that."

Justin Hardy had 10 catches for 88 yards but the Herd limited his gains after the catch.

"We tried to help whoever had Hardy," Holliday said. "Chuck Heater (Marshall defensive coordinator) did a nice job mixing up the brackets (coverage rotations)."

Marshall drove 53 yards for a touchdown to start the third quarter after ECU had gotten within 24-10 at the half.

"We didn't come out and do the things we wanted to do those first five minutes of the second half," McNeill said.

The Pirates got Warren Harvey field goals twice in the red zone, but they were small boosts in the face of a large Marshall lead.

This ECU team still has a chance to do something special in its bowl game. On a positive note, the Pirates haven't lost two straight games the last two seasons.

E-mail Al Myatt.

PAGE UPDATED 11/30/13 12:48 AM.

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