East Carolina Edges UAB In Conference USA Opener, 28-23
Sept. 24, 2011
GREENVILLE, N.C. - Despite a school-record seven turnovers, East Carolina (1-2, 1-0 Conference USA) held on for a 28-23 victory over UAB (0-3, 0-2) Saturday afternoon inside Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Dominique Davis led the Pirates in their Conference USA opener as the senior rifleman threw for 361 yards and three touchdowns.
The Blazers rallied in the fourth quarter, but their final drive fell short at the Pirate 18-yard line as reserve quarterback Jonathan Perry was unable to connect with Pat Shed in the front-corner of the end zone.
East Carolina missed out on several opportunities to separate itself from a pesky UAB squad. In the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, Pirate running back Michael Dobson seemed to have scored a touchdown but the call was challenged by the Blazer coaching staff. After review, the officials determined Dobson had fumbled before crossing the goal line and UAB's Greg Irvin recovered. Instead of the score, which would have put ECU up by a three-possession margin, the Blazers took the ball and marched 80 yards in six plays on the ensuing drive for a touchdown that made it 28-23 with 10:58 remaining on the clock.
The Pirates were again in position to seize control on the next drive, but Davis threw the final of his three interceptions on the UAB nine-yard line. The East Carolina defense came up big in the redzone for the second straight week, this time as Shed's potential go-ahead reception was knocked away by the Pirate secondary.
While East Carolina sported one of the nation's top passing offenses a year ago, it was the running game that proved to be the difference in the victory over UAB. Running back Reggie Bullock paced the Pirate backfield with an impressive afternoon. The speedy junior tallied a career-high 169 yards on 24 carries, including a touchdown that staked ECU to a 21-17 lead midway through the third quarter.
Redshirt freshman Justin Hardy got the Pirates on the board first, hauling in a 21-yard pass from Davis before lunging into the end zone for the game's first score. Hardy finished the contest with seven receptions and a game-high 90 receiving yards. After UAB tied the score on a Jacki Williams 15-yard scamper over the right side, East Carolina reclaimed the lead with 6:48 left in the first half. Davis launched a fade pass toward the back corner of the end zone, where senior wide receiver Lance Lewis made a leaping grab and barely got his foot inbounds for the touchdown. UAB cut into the lead on a 24-yard field goal just before halftime. The Pirate offense turned the ball over four times (one interception, three fumbles) in the first two periods, but led 14-10 at intermission.
The turnover trend was as prevalent in the second half as Davis' swing pass intended for Michael Bowman was intercepted and returned for a Blazer touchdown on ECU's first drive of the third frame, putting UAB ahead 17-14. Bullock's lone touchdown run put the Pirates back on top 21-17. Seemingly settled into a rhythm offensively after the first-half mistakes, Davis led another flawless drive which culminated with his second touchdown strike of the day to Lewis, who finished the tilt with a team-high eight receptions. The second and third quarter scoring grabs gave Lewis 18 career touchdown receptions, just three behind Larry Shannon's record of 21 from 1994-97. Michael Barbour, who was four-for-four on extra points, tacked on his final try to give the Pirates a 28-17 advantage.
The Blazers were forced to play the remainder of the game without starting quarterback Bryan Ellis. The senior signal-caller was carted off the field during the third quarter after receiving a hit following a completed pass. Ellis finished the game 22-for-32, throwing for 177 yards and one interception. Perry entered and completed nine of 16 passes and collected 106 yards through the air.
After the call reversal overturned Dobson's fourth quarter touchdown, Shed raced in from seven yards out to cap off the scoring.
The array of turnovers marks the sixth time in program history that the Pirates have had seven giveaways. The last time East Carolina turned the ball over as many times was a 1992 contest against Southern Miss - a span of 223 games. UAB had not recorded a takeaway in its first two games before recovering four East Carolina fumbles and intercepting a trio of passes.
In a game which was highlighted by offensive miscues, the Pirate defense was up to the task of keeping UAB off the scoreboard. Damon Magazu recorded an interception in the second consecutive game and the third of his career. The sophomore free safety also notched his first career fumble recovery after freshman nose guard Terry Williams forced a third-quarter fumble. It marks the fourth straight game ECU has forced multiple turnovers.
The Pirates return to action next week against yet another automatic qualifier BCS program when they welcome North Carolina to Greenville. East Carolina has not defeated the Tar Heels since 2007. Kickoff is set for 8:00 p.m.