Sophomore Bryce Williams celebrates after his first career touchdown in the first quarter.
Sept. 14, 2013
By Bill Woodward
GREENVILLE, N.C. - The opening drive looked almost too easy and in the end, maybe it was.
East Carolina took the opening kickoff and proceeded to drive 75 yards in five plays against Virginia Tech's staunch defense Saturday at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Shane Carden capped the drive with a 22-yard touchdown pass to Bryce Williams and after the point-after the Pirates were up 7-0.
From that point on, Carden and the Pirates' offense ran into a brick wall of Hokies - managing just three points the rest of the way in a 15-10 loss that dropped ECU to 2-1.
"We just came out ready to go," Carden said of the opening drive." I don't know if they weren't ready for our pace or what. Things were clicking and a penalty helped us out. But they adjusted pretty well to some of the plays we used (in that drive). Unfortunately, we just weren't able to finish drives the rest of the game."
The Pirates lost their fourth-straight game to the Hokies (2-1), a perennial contender in the ACC since joining the league. It was a case of missed opportunities for the Pirates, who led 10-7 in the third quarter and were still down just 13-10 in the closing minutes thanks to a missed point-after and two missed field goals by the Hokies.
"It was very frustrating," Carden added. "The defense played great. They should all be holding their heads up because they shut that team down. It's very frustrating because one part of the team was playing awesome and we couldn't put up more points."
The East Carolina offense managed just 30 yards of offense in the second half. Carden, who had been very sharp in ECU's first two games, was harried into a 19-for-31 passing day by the blitzing defense and threw three interceptions after going the first two games without a pick.
Still, the Pirates had a chance to win it when they stopped the Hokies cold on a fourth-and-1 at the ECU 10 with 2:04 left in the game.
The Pirates were looking for a dramatic finish, a win against an ACC opponent with very solid credentials. Instead, the Hokies' defense made its presence felt again.
Carden was sacked on first down, moving the ball back to the 4-yard line. On second down, Tech defensive end James Gayle hit Carden from the blind side and the ball popped loose.
It was recovered in the ECU end zone by Ike Harris, but that gave the Hokies a safety and a 15-10 lead.
East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill challenged the call of a fumble, hoping on the replay that officials would see Carden's arm coming forward for an incomplete pass. But the call was upheld.
The Pirates tried an onside kick on the ensuing free kick from the 20, but the ball went out of bounds. The Hokies ran three plays on the ground and it was over.
"I felt like I saw his arm going forward," McNeill said of the play that resulted in the safety. "It was worth a timeout. I felt like at that time of the game, it was worth challenging."
The Hokies had seven sacks in the game, and pressured Carden throughout the hard-fought contest. The Pirates managed just 46 yards on the ground on 23 carries.
The East Carolina defense held its own, however. Virginia Tech rushed for 53 yards on 34 carries (1.6 yards per carry). But senior quarterback Logan Thomas passed for 258 yards (25-for-43 with an interception) and two touchdowns.
Virginia Tech's offense wasn't consistent, but they converted nine of 20 third-down opportunities. East Carolina was 3-for-11 on third-down conversions.
"They were tough on third down," McNeill said of the Hokies. "You want to get the defense off the field any time you can.
"I thought our defense stepped up and gave our offense opportunities. We pride ourselves of taking advantage of our opportunities. Today, we didn't. But don't forget about that football team (on the other side of the field). They are a good football team."
East Carolina sophomore defensive back Josh Hawkins was injured early in the second half and was carried off the field on a gurney after paramedics immobilized his neck. Hawkins was taken to Vidant Medical Center. He was later released and team officials said Hawkins had suffered a concussion.
The Pirates have an open week before traveling to North Carolina on Sept. 28. McNeill said the off week came at a good time. It gives several injured players including Hawkins time to heal, and also gives the offense a chance to work out the kinks that were exposed on Saturday.
"We had a tough day (offensively)," McNeill said. "But they'll bounce back.
"I think the off weeks were planned perfectly this year. Having one this early is always good. We divide the season into quarters. This is the end of the first quarter, and now we have a chance to heal some nicks bruises. The off week comes at a good time."
McNeill gave a lot of credit for the Pirates' offensive struggles to the Hokies.
"They blitzed a bunch, more than we had seen on film," he said. "We'll just have to adjust to that.
"Virginia Tech did a good job of executing those blitzes. It wasn't a matter of us not playing right or anything like that. It comes down to execution, and (Virginia Tech) made the plays."
Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer was not happy with his team's missed opportunities, but he was glad to get out of a packed and noisy Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium with a victory. A crowd of 50,096 was on hand - pushing the attendance total since the 7,000-seat expansion project in 2010 over one million.
"It was a great win by our football team," Beamer said. "We beat a good football team. (East Carolina) has some great looking kids and they are making some real progress with their program."
McNeill didn't expect his team to dwell on the what-if's after the tough loss. Instead, it was time to get back to work and prepare for the Tar Heels.
"We came up on the short end of the score today, but that doesn't deter our belief in our kids, doesn't deter our belief in our coaching staff," McNeill added. "Virginia Tech will contend for their conference championship and we will contend for ours."