Dec. 16, 1978 - Attendance: 18,200
By Jim Kyle, Daily Reflector
SHREVEPORT, La. - It was the Pirates' first bowl appearance since they defeated Maine, 31-0, in the Tangerine Bowl in 1965. After the game, ECU coach Pat Dye expressed hope of bigger and better bowls in the Bucs' future. The victory wasn't the only honor ECU garnered in the game. Fullback Theodore Sutton set an Independence Bowl record with 143 yards on 17 carries and was named the game's outstanding offensive player by the press. End Zack Valentine, who led the ECU defense with seven tackles, received the award as the top defensive player.
"That's the way to have fun playing the game," Dye told his team in the locker room. "We may not have been the most polished team in the world, but we really got after them."
The Pirates certainly did that. More than one Bulldog had to be helped from the field after a bone-crushing hit, and quarterback Keith Thibodeaux, who directed all three Tech scoring drives, had to be taken to the hospital after ECU linebacker Jeffrey Warren buried his helmet in the quarterback's chin.
The East Carolina defense completely shut down the Bulldog rushing attack, limiting the Southland Conference champions to just 12 yards on the ground. The host Bulldogs were more successful through the air, passing a record 52 times for 263 yards.
"We knew Tech was going to throw the football against us," Dye said, "and they got a lot of yards. They really had enough yards to score more points than they did. But our defense played well, especially inside the 20, and we came up with the big play when we needed it." Dye also has praise for his offensive unit. "I'm particularly proud of the offensive line. The offensive line has made tremendous progress and [quarterback Leander] Green is executing our offense as well as it can be executed."
Sutton, who had the best day of his career, gave credit to the Pirate defense. "Our defense kept us in good field position all game," the Kinston junior said. It was his 45-yard TD scamper in the third quarter that ended a Tech comeback bid by putting ECU up, 28-13. Sutton said the bowl trip "means a great deal to us. We finally got a chance to prove to people that we can play football."
His record-breaking performance was a result of taking what the Bulldog defense would allow. "In our offense, one person might get a lot of yardage in a certain game. Tonight, the inside veer was really open and I just took advantage of it," Sutton explained.
It was an afternoon of frustration for Louisiana Tech as the Bulldogs left the football on the ground almost as many times as they put it in the air. Three Tech turnovers in the first half led to Pirate touchdowns and a 21-0 ECU lead early in the second quarter. The Bulldogs turned the ball over seven times in the game, six times before halftime.
The lopsided outcome of the game, despite only a 332-275 Pirate advantage in total yardage, was the result of the Bucs being able to capitalize on Bulldog mistakes, while Tech was unable to take advantage of all of its opportunities. A goalline stand inside the ECU 5 late in the third quarter closed the door on the Bulldog hopes.
Neither team was able to generate any offense early in the game; there wasn't even a first down in the first five possessions. But the Pirates finally got away on their first scoring drive after defensive end Cliff Williams recovered a fumbled pitch at the Tech 16.
Sutton broke loose for 13 yards on first down to put the ball at the 3 and, two plays later, Anthony Collins took a pitch over the right side for the score.
Bill Lamm, who kicked PATs after all five ECU TDs, made it 7-0. The Pirates set a number of records in the young bowl, including fewest yards allowed on the ground (12), most touchdowns (five), most points scored (35), most rushing first downs
ECU - Collins 3 run (Lamm kick)
ECU - Green 1 run (Lamm kick)
ECU - Collins 1 run (Lamm kick)
LT - Spruiell 32 pass from Thibodeaux (Swilley kick)
LT - FG Swilley 36
ECU - Sutton 45 run (Lamm kick)
LT - FG Swilley 24
ECU - Hicks 2 run (Lamm kick)
|Team Statistics||ECU||La. Tech|
Rushing: ECU - Sutton 17-143. LT - Clark 6-28.
Passing: ECU - Green 4-13-0, 54. LT - Barkley 12-39-3, 160; Thibodeaux 6-13-0, 103.
Receiving: ECU - Gallaher 3-33. LT - Spruiell 7-130.