By Al Myatt
Pirates overcome Tulsa's
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Tulsa had the intangibles but East Carolina had the talent in a 49-32
American Athletic Conference win for the Pirates on Skelly Field at H.A.
Chapman Stadium on Friday night.
The Golden Hurricane was fueled
by the emotion of Senior Night amid speculation about coach Bill
Blankenship's future at his alma mater and led 14-7 in the first quarter
after blocking an ECU punt in the end zone for a score.
That got a crowd of 15,126
excited about the possibility of an upset.
But the Pirates were able to
respond every time they were threatened in snapping a two-game losing streak
in AAC road games.
The weather was much friendlier
than for the unsuccessful trips
to Temple and
Temperature for the 8:37 p.m
kickoff (EST) was a balmy 63 degrees, according to the final statistics
book, with south winds at nine miles per hour. The Pirates started out hot,
scoring on their customary opening possession with a 75-yard drive completed
by a 15-yard Shane Carden pass to Bryce Williams.
"You don't let anything knock
you down and you keep on pushing," said Williams of the early deficit. "We
just keep on playing our game. Our mindset is to keep on pushing forward."
Williams also had a 12-yard
scoring reception in the third quarter as Carden finished 28 of 41 for 338
yards with four touchdowns and one interception. Justin Hardy had nine grabs
for 88 yards, including the go-ahead TD late in the first half as he
extended his FBS career receptions record to 364.
"We understood their position,"
Carden said. "It was their last game, the last game for the seniors. They
had nothing to lose. They were going to come out and give you everything
they've got. They fought hard. We've been talking all season about
weathering the storm. Things are going to happen that don't go your way that
you can't control.
"We could have played better.
When we look at the film, there will be plenty of things we can get better
at but we kept fighting. We kept believing."
ECU outgained the Golden
Mike linebacker Zeek Bigger had
10 solo tackles, four assists and an interception that he returned 22 yards
to set up ECU's second touchdown, which tied the score at 14 on a 16-yard
catch and run by Jimmy Williams.
"We've been doing a lot of
turnover drills," Bigger said. "I've been saying the whole week that we've
got to do a better job of getting turnovers. ... That pick I was just doing
my assignment and I ended up running to the right place at the right time.
Lord knows I was trying to make it to the end zone. I got a little winded
going back to my running back days in high school.
"It got the sideline jumping
and gave us some momentum."
Bigger's running mate at inside
linebacker, Brandon Williams, returned an interception 37 yards to give the
Pirates a 49-25 lead with 11:23 left in the game.
"If we keep giving our offense
extra possessions, we feel like we're a team with one heartbeat," Bigger
said. "We know our offense can score so the thing is getting turnovers and
making plays so we can give them the ball back. ... I know how the other
teams feel because I feel the same way in practice."
The offense was stopped on
fourth-and-goal at the Tulsa 1-yard line with 2:09 left in the first half
and the score tied at 14, but ECU's defense forced an incompletion on
3rd-and-5 from the Golden Hurricane 7-yard line. ECU got the ball back on
the Tulsa 40 with 1:08 left in the half and scored on a 4-yard pass to Hardy
to take the lead for keeps just 14 seconds before intermission.
"Not scoring and then coming
back — not trying to do anything over the top and just going out and scoring
— just speaks highly of our team," Carden said.
The Pirates had a lot of
contributors in dropping Tulsa to 2-10 for the season and 2-6 in league
Cam Worthy had five catches for
98 yards. Isaiah Jones accounted for 38 yards with four receptions. Davon
Grayson had two catches for 41 yards.
Chris Hairston picked up 91
yards on six carries. Cory Hunter ran for his first career score.
"That was a team win," said ECU
coach Ruffin McNeill after the Pirates improved to 8-3 overall and 5-2 in
the AAC. "Wins on the road in our conference and in the country are hard.
You'll see that through this weekend and all the holidays. ... Really proud
our kids hung together as a team. We knew we'd face a very inspired group."
Bigger said the six-day game
week was tough and the Pirates have another one coming up. ECU will
experience the same emotion that Tulsa did Friday night with its seniors
playing their final home game against Central Florida to close the regular
"Right now, we're thinking
about UCF," Carden said. "Senior Night back home (7:30 p.m., Thursday, ESPN)
is my last game at Dowdy-Ficklen. That game is going to mean a lot for me so
I want to make sure I'm 100 percent."
E-mail Al Myatt.
11/29/14 03:14 AM.