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Pirates Drop 27-6 Contest at North Carolina

Go Tigers! Jeremy Grove led the Pirates with nine total tackles
Go Tigers!
Jeremy Grove led the Pirates with nine total tackles
Go Tigers!

Sept. 22, 2012

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By Bill Woodward
ECUPirates.com

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - A week after a strong third quarter lifted East Carolina to an important road victory at Southern Mississippi, the opposite happened at North Carolina.

Down 10-6 at halftime, the Pirates stumbled at the beginning of the second half and North Carolina took advantage, scoring 14 unanswered points in a three-minute span en route to a 27-6 victory at Kenan Stadium.

The third quarter started well for the Pirates (2-2), who forced UNC into a three-and-out on the first possession of the half. Then things went sour.

East Carolina's first drive of the half stalled when Shane Carden was sacked, one of seven the Tar Heels had in the game.

UNC's Bryn Renner connected with Sean Tapley on a 62-yard touchdown pass on the next UNC play from scrimmage. Then Carden was sacked on the Pirates' next possession and his fumble was recovered by the Tar Heels at the ECU 15.

Four plays later, Giovani Bernard went in from four yards out and the Heels were up 24-6 with 7:55 left in the quarter. On the ensuing kickoff, ECU's Lance Ray bobbled the ball in the end zone and had to return the ball after he stepped over the goal line. He was stopped at the one-yard line.

It was the telling stretch in the game.

"There is not any room for error especially against a talented team," East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill said. "They did a good job of capitalizing. Then we had a mental mistake coming out of the end zone on a return and got us backed up in there.

"Those things start to multiply. Little things turn into big things and against a team as talented as UNC you can't have those kind of mistakes."

Renner finished with 321 yards passing, his second consecutive 300-yard effort for the Tar Heels - going 24-for-43 and throwing two TD passes. The Pirates struggled to put pressure on Renner, sacking him only once.

"I have to give credit to the opponent," McNeill said. "They have a really good offensive line. You'll probably see three of those guys in the [NFL]. There were some things that we maybe could have done technically better, maybe rushing on the edge. I thought we blitzed pretty good. But I thought [Renner] got it off pretty well. He's a good football player."

Carden, meanwhile, was on the ropes for much of the game.

"Shane was under duress," McNeill said. "They did a good job of getting pressure with four [rushers] and defending and if you can do that, you are going to be good."

East Carolina hung with the Heels (2-2) in the first half, but had to settle for field goals after a pair of lengthy drives.

"We couldn't finish drives," said Carden, a sophomore who was making his second start at quarterback. "In the second quarter, we were driving the ball well. We just have to finish those drives. If we do that, we have two touchdowns.

"And I think we kind of let them get to us [in the third quarter]. They had some big plays. We have to answer those. There was a little pressure here and there, but I have to do a better job of getting rid of the ball. They got to me on some of the deeper throws, but I can't take those sacks. A couple were on the line, a couple on me. You can't put it all on the line."

Bernard, who returned for the Tar Heels after missing two games with an injury, rushed for just 50 yards against ECU, but hurt the Pirates with six catches for 52 yards including a 14-yard touchdown catch on a screen play for UNC's first touchdown.

"I thought our guys played a complete game," said UNC coach Larry Fedora, in his first year with the Tar Heels after four seasons at Southern Miss. "I wouldn't say it was a great game, but we played a complete game. You've got to give a lot of props to our defense - the way they played in the second half. Anytime you get seven sacks and hold somebody to 230 yards of total offense, they did a tremendous job."

The Pirates had some bright spots on offense, however. Vintavious Cooper rushed for 68 yards on just six carries and Reggie Bullock and Michael Dobson combined for 62 yards on 13 carries. The seven sacks on Carden left the quarterback with minus-40 yards on the ground, and pulled the Pirates' total down to 109 yards on 33 carries.

"We want to continue to have a running back-by-committee," McNeill said. "We want to keep shuffling our backs. We don't want to just have one back. I learned that lesson last year. I think all four of our backs have unique abilities."

Carden finished 17-for-30 for 124 yards passing.

"Today was another learning experience [for Carden]," McNeill said. "Offensively, we want more productivity and I think that will happen with more reps [in practice]. Shane is a guy that has a lot of pride and he will get better. But's it's not one guy. It's a combination of everyone."

The third-quarter woes for the Pirates were a matter of execution, ECU linebacker Jeremy Grove said.

"They executed their calls and we didn't," Grove said. "That is what it came down to in the second half. They kept running their game, we just didn't execute. There are technique things we have got to work on."

The Pirates finished up a three-game road streak - a loss at South Carolina, a Conference USA victory at Southern Miss and Saturday's loss to in-state rival UNC. Next up is UTEP, a conference game at home on Saturday at 7 p.m.

"After three weeks on the road and finishing 2-2, there are some things that we have learned as a football team," McNeill said. "There are some things that we have to work on and we need to keep on developing but we found out we are a pretty good football team, we have a pretty good outfit in that locker room.

"We'll get ready for UTEP next week. I'm looking forward to getting back home and into the friendly confines of Dowdy-Ficklen."