Pirates Win First Game of Holtz Era, 24-21

UABSPORTS.COM Junior James Pinkney
Junior James Pinkney

Sept. 3, 2005

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GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) - Skip Holtz brought plenty of optimism and enthusiasm the day he arrived to take over the downtrodden East Carolina program.

No one could argue with the results Saturday.

James Pinkney ran for two touchdowns and threw for a score while the defense forced four turnovers to help the Pirates beat Duke 24-21 in Holtz's debut.

Aundrae Allison had 10 catches for 163 yards and a score for the Pirates, who won their season opener for the first time since beating Duke 38-0 in 2000. Zach Baker added two interceptions and a fumble recovery to lead that solid defensive effort that made the Blue Devils work for every yard.

By the time it was over, Holtz _ still chilly after being doused with a cooler of ice water on the sideline _ was celebrating with his players near midfield.

"I don't know if anybody in here feels as good as I do," Holtz told reporters after the game.

Holtz had spent the past six seasons as an assistant to his father, Lou, at South Carolina. Before that, he spent five seasons at Connecticut, poising the program for a successful transition to Division I-A. That made him an ideal candidate to resurrect East Carolina's once proud program, which boasted a top-10 ranking in 1991 and has 12 bowl appearances.

East Carolina has been in a steady decline ever since blowing a 30-point halftime lead in a 64-61 double-overtime loss to Marshall in the 2001 GMAC Bowl.

Going back to the final two games of the 2002 season, East Carolina has lost 22 of 25 games. Nineteen losses have come by double-digit margins, with seven by at least 33 points. Those struggles led to the resignation of John Thompson, who won just three games in two seasons.

The change paid immediate dividends for a program in desperate need of success.

The Pirates got a 45-yard return on the opening kickoff by Markeith McQueen, a 52-yard punt return by Travis Williams to set up their first touchdown and a series of big plays from Pinkney and Allison throughout to stay in front most of the way.

But most important was the play of East Carolina's defense, a unit that gave up nearly 40 points per game last season.

Baker led that effort. The senior safety recovered a botched handoff between Mike Schneider and Boyle inside ECU's 15 in the second quarter, then intercepted a deflected pass from Schneider to Ronnie Elliott inside the goal line in the third.

In the final period, with the Pirates protecting a three-point lead, he dove in front of Andy Roland and intercepted a pass from Schneider with less than five minutes left.

The defense had five players with at least seven tackles, led by Chris Moore (10) and Richard Koonce (eight).

"It's definitely not personnel because it's the same guys that were out there last year," Koonce said of the defensive improvement. "It's a mindset. The defense is a whole lot easier. We know what we're supposed to do and we're playing 100 miles per hour."

That effort was more than enough for the offense. Pinkney completed 17 of 21 passes for 236 yards, standing in the pocket and taking several hits while delivering a pass to move the chains despite a sluggish ground game.

On the other side of the field, the Blue Devils struggled with their offensive consistency and managed just 101 total yards in the first half. Justin Boyle ran for two touchdowns and Ronnie Drummer added a 100-yard kickoff return for a score, but it wasn't enough for the Blue Devils to win their first opener on the road since beating Northwestern in 1988.

"We've been practicing hard for a whole year, so we didn't expect to make those kind of mistakes _ but we did, so we lost," Drummer said. "It was the first game, and some people were nervous. We're still getting back into the game-day feeling, so I'm pretty sure those mistakes won't be made again."

Pinkney got the Pirates on the board with a 1-yard sneak for a 7-0 lead, then connected with Allison for a 50-yard score down the left sideline for a 14-7 lead midway through the first quarter.

After Boyle tied it with a 1-yard run, the Pirates went ahead to stay on a 32-yard field goal from Robert Lee for a 17-14 halftime edge. East Carolina pushed that lead to 24-14 on a second sneak from Pinkney.

Boyle's second short TD run early in the fourth cut the deficit to 24-21, but the Blue Devils got no closer. Pierre Parker sealed it with an interception with 1:16 left, sending the Pirates' sideline into celebration.

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