Jan. 1, 1992 - Attendance: 59,332
ATLANTA, Ga. - The perfect script now has the perfect ending. And a team that always believed it could did something truly unbelievable. It was done with thrills and chills, suspense to the very end. But what did you expect?
Down 34-17 with 8:41 to go and its never-say-die fans chanting "We believe," East Carolina mustered an incredible rally to overcome North Carolina State, 37-34, in the 24th Annual Peach Bowl. The fitting end to a storybook season leaves the Pirates 11-1.
"When we were behind 17 points you couldn't help but hear the people dressed in purple chanting that they believe," ECU head coach Bill Lewis said. "I think we've added a special meaning to 'I believe' or 'We believe' or however you want to say it because I think that we truly captured the spirit of that."
The frenzied bowl-record crowd of 59,322 and the final Peach Bowl to be played in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium nearly settled for a tie, but Damon Hartman's 49-yard field goal attempt as time expired was short and wide right. College football's Cinderella had beaten the clock again. "We've been called a Cinderella story all year," ECU center Keith Arnold said. "Cinderella went to a ball tonight and got married. She's queen now. The feeling's unbelievable ... now I guess we know who's best in North Carolina."
East Carolina, with its second straight win in a series that was discontinued in 1987, can make that claim. But for three-plus quarters, the Wolfpack was better. Muscle and speed in the running game enabled the Pack to do what it wanted coming in--keep the ball out of the hands of Pirate quarterback Jeff Blake and put a lot of points on the board. Anthony Barbour was a danger on the corners and finished with 90 yards on 23 carries. Greg Manior and Gary Downs banged inside and combined for 117 more yards. The Pack ran the ball 56 times for 186 yards. But when the time was an ally and first downs were critical, ECU's defense got tough and State wilted.
State's collapse down the stretch included a shanked punt that gave the Pirates a shot in the arm. The Wolfpack also could find no solution to a redhot Blake, who completed 31 of 51 passes for 378 yards, threw four touchdowns, and was intercepted three times. Blake was particularly uncanny in the fourth quarter, hitting on 17 of 26 passes, 15 of 21 for 148 yards on the final three scoring drives in which the Pirates unveiled a shotgun formation. Tight end Luke Fisher was unstoppable, catching a bowl-record 12 passes for 144 yards. Fisher had six catches for 63 yards in the fourth period, including the game-winner with 1:32 left.
The Wolfpack fumbled with just over a minute to go then lost to Maryland on a last-second field goal two years ago. The Cavs routed State, 42-10, this season.
The Wolfpack appeared to have the Pirates primed for the kill after Shad Santee recovered Dion Johnson's fumble of a punt and Ledel George hit Charles Davenport with a 52-yard TD pass two plays later to make it 34-17.
Mike Reid picked off a Blake pass at the Wolfpack 5 on the next series, but ECU got the ball back at State's 32 after Kilpatrick's 10-yard muffed punt with 8:41 to go.
Then Blake took over. From the 32, the Pirates needed seven plays and just 1:15 to get in the end zone. Blake got the score, slipping in from the 2 on a third-down option to the left.
Kilpatrick got off a 50-yard punt into the end zone after the Wolfpack failed to pick up a first down on the next series. Blake promptly marched ECU 80 yards in 11 plays, hitting eight of 10 passes and burning just 2:06 to get within 34-30. Blake hit Johnson with a 17-yard pass for the score at the 4:18 mark. The Pirates opted to go for a two-point conversion, but Tyler Lawrence pressured Blake and forced a fumble.
NCSU - Downs 2 run (Hartman kick)
ECU - Van Buren 5 pass from Blake (Brenner kick)
NCSU - Harrison 4 pass from Jordan (Hartman kick)
ECU - FG Brenner 27
ECU - Gallimore 55 pass from Blake (Brenner kick)
NCSU - Hinton 14 pass from Jordan (Hartman kick)
NCSU - Manior 1 run (kick blocked)
NCSU - Davenport 52 pass from George (Hartman kick)
ECU - Blake 2 run (Brenner kick)
ECU - Johnson 17 pass from Blake (run failed)
ECU - Fisher 22 pass from Blake (Brenner kick)
|Team Statistics||ECU||La. Tech|
Rushing: ECU - Van Buren 11-65. NCSU - Barbour 23-90, Downs 10-63.
Passing: ECU - Blake 31-51-3, 378. NCSU - Jordan 15-23-1, 145.
Receiving: ECU - Fisher 12-144, Johnson 6-56, Gallimore 5-113, Van Buren 5-30. NCSU - Davenport 6-118, Williams 4-30.