Five Interceptions Lifts ECU over Memphis, 35-20
Sept. 16, 2006
GREENVILLE, N.C. - After two heart-breaking losses on the road, the East Carolina Pirates came home to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium full of hope. The Pirates played host to Conference-USA rival, the Memphis Tigers. The visiting Tigers played the part of the welcome guest all too well in the first half. Led by junior QB Martin Hankins, Memphis mounted three first-half drives of 77, 78, and 92 yards. Hankins finished the first half with three touchdown passes and 209 yards through the air.
The Pirates continued to show promise on offense, especially with the passing of James Pinkney and the receiving of Aundrae Allison. Pinkney lofted a lovely 40-yard strike to favorite receiver Aundrae Allison to highlight ECU's second offensive drive. A subsequent first-half drive of 78 yards was thwarted when RB Chris Johnson was stripped of the ball at the Memphis 2-yard line. Pinkney finished the half with 169 passing yards. Johnson accounted for the lone Pirate touchdown, a 6-yard run in the 2nd quarter. Behind 20-7 at halftime, Pirate head coach Skip Holtz said, "We had our opportunities, but we missed a couple of field goals. We have to shore up our defense and make the most of our opportunities."
What he told the team in the locker room must have worked, because the coach didn't have to wait long for either of those things to happen. His defense responded and his offense capitalized. LB Quentin Cotton intercepted a Hankins pass to set up ECU's second score, a 5-yard touchdown run by Johnson for his second touchdown. Pinkney showed strong legs to go with his great arm. He darted for 25 yards to set up the score. Then, to turn the tide, LB Zack Slate tipped a Hankins pass deep in Memphis territory, pulled it in and trotted 7 yards into the end zone early in the 4th quarter, leading to the first Pirate lead of the game, 21-20. The Pirate offensive firm of Pinkney, Allison, Johnson and Company continued to move the ball. Allison enjoyed his 6th career 100-yard-plus receiving game; Johnson, his 4th 100-plus yard rushing effort. Pinkney passed for 200-plus yards for the 18th time. Ho-hum. Just another day at the office. The ECU offense racked up 413 yards of total offense for the game. And, the Pinkney to Johnson aerial combination made Memphis pay again, a 33-yard toss that looked a replay of their 1st quarter hook up.
However, the biggest difference and the reason ECU earned its first victory was a defense that de-clawed the Tigers completely in the second half. The Pirates looked like a different team on defense in the second half. After he riddled the Pirate defense for 209 yards in the first half, Hankins managed just 56 yards in the second. In fact, the ECU defense turned Hankins' errant passes into about three times as much yardage as he own receivers did. They brought back five interceptions for 155 yards. And, in the most important statistic of all, the Tigers failed to get on the scoreboard in the second half.
The Pirate defense came alive, stymied the Memphis offense and created key turnovers, including another interception for a TD. Kasey Ross picked off a Hankins pass in the final moments of the game and returned it untouched for 77 yards to put the final nail in the Memphis coffin. It may have been a rude way to treat a guest, but the Pirates certainly understand what it's like to lose tough games on the road. The second-half Pirate payback was a sweet homecoming and a well-deserved win.
Holtz played down his role in the sudden emergence of the defense. He said, "I told them that if we want to win, we have to have a stop on defense, we have to step up and start making plays." The team listened, they did everything the coach told them, and they won.