Harris Leads East Carolina Past UCF 19-14

UABSPORTS.COM Brandon Jackson rushed for a career-high 88 yards and caught two passes for 31 yards.
Brandon Jackson rushed for a career-high 88 yards and caught two passes for 31 yards.

Sept. 26, 2009

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GREENVILLE, N.C. - Led by Dwayne Harris' two touchdowns, the ECU football team opened up conference play with a 19-14 win over UCF Saturday afternoon at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

After consecutive lackluster second half performances against West Virginia and North Carolina, the Pirate offense summoned just enough to outscore the Knights in front of an enthusiastic crowd of 43,210.

ECU accumulated 403 yards of total offense, with senior Patrick Pinkney completing 65 percent of his passes for a season-high 293 yards. The quarterback found favorite receiver Dwayne Harris 10 times for 121 yards and a touchdown. The 10 receptions marked a personal best for Harris.

"I thought Patrick had a pretty good game today," head coach Skip Holtz said. "He was very much poised in the pocket. This is the best game he has played this season in terms of managing the game. He really tried to avoid taking a lost yardage play or a sack. Other than the interception in the first half, he really had a solid performance,"

The Pirate offense played a balanced game, with four backs rushing for a total of 110 yards. Brandon Jackson had a career-high 88 yards on the ground with a long run of 24 yards.

The Knights scored first after starting their first drive inside their own 20, following a Jonathan Williams fumble. Quarterback Brett Hodges found Kamar Aiken streaking down the left sideline for a 40-yard completion that set up a 19-yard Brynn Harvey touchdown plunge, giving UCF a 7-0 lead with 7:19 left in the first quarter.

On East Carolina's ensuing drive, Pinkney took the offense all the way to UCF's nine-yard line before settling for a 20-yard Ben Hartman field goal, cutting the Pirate deficit to 7-3 at the end of the first quarter.

ECU's first touchdown occurred early in the second quarter when Harris took a direct snap out of the Wildcat formation and scooted 25 yards down the left sideline for the score. The junior recorded a team-high 178 all-purpose yards and notched his second-straight game with a rushing TD.

The Pirate red zone defense showed its resilience in the second quarter, stopping the Knights twice. Linval Joseph blocked a 26-yard field goal attempt by Nick Cattoi and Jay Ross intercepted a Brett Hodges pass on the four-yard line to help the Pirates maintain a 10-7 lead heading into the locker room.

Joseph's stuff for the Pirates was the first since November 28, 2008 against UTEP.

The ECU defense forced four interceptions and one fumble for a total of five turnovers, with most at critical moments of the game.

"Our defense played great today," said Holtz. "It really gave our offense great field position in the second half. We challenged the defense coming in because we have not met our turnover goal yet. Those five turnovers gave our offense great scoring opportunities."

A Travis Simmons interception gave the Pirates the ball on the UCF 30 with under six minutes left in the third quarter, but ECU was unable capitalize. Pinkney's 13-yard pass to Rob Kass then put the Pirates on the two-yard line, however UCF's defense held up again and East Carolina settled for a 19-yard Hartman field goal to make the score 13-7 in favor of the home team.

"Our defense did hold ECU to a field goal three separate times, so that was good to see, but we had the chance to get some things done and the Pirates made big plays," UCF head coach George O' Leary said.

The Pirates scored their first second-half touchdown of the season on a three-yard Pinkney pass to Harris, capping a 72-yard drive while a failed two-point conversion gave the Pirates a 19-7 lead with 7:55 left in the game.

A Nick Johnson interception with 5:59 remaining in the fourth quarter marked the penultimate Knight turnover, but UCF managed another score with 1:06 left in the game before recovering an onside kick, giving the away team once last opportunity. However, an interception by Van Eskridge as the clock ticked under a minute, sealed the victory for East Carolina.

"It certainly wasn't a perfect game, but I'm proud of the heart that our players displayed," Holtz explained.

After allowing over 900 yards in the last two contests, The Pirate defense yielded just 366 total yards to the Knights. Defensively, Chris Mattocks led ECU with 11 tackles and one sack, the first of his career.