Pirates Power Past UTEP, 28-18
Sept. 29, 2012
By Bill Woodward
GREENVILLE, N.C. - On a night when East Carolina had to battle the elements and a gritty UTEP football team, the Pirates had the answer for both.
East Carolina weathered an 80-minute lightning delay in the second quarter and a late comeback by the Miners to score a 28-18 victory at a rain-soaked Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Saturday night.
"We had a delay, a shortened halftime," East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill said. "We had momentum going, then had to stop, then had to regain it and try to win the football game. And we did that.
"I had never been through a delay in a game in 32 years. It was something we have dealt with as a team in practice and that helped a little bit. But never in a game."
With rain and lightning only minutes away, the game was halted about an hour after the opening kickoff. The Pirates trailed 10-7 and had a first-and-goal on the UTEP nine-yard line.
On the first play after the 80-minute delay, ECU quarterback Shane Carden threw an interception. Then he threw another on the Pirates' next possession.
Carden bounced back with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Justin Hardy on a play that was first ruled incomplete. After review, it was determined that Hardy had gotten a foot down in the end zone and the Pirates took the lead for good at 14-10 with 12 seconds left in the first half.
With junior transfer Vintavious Cooper rushing for 151 yards, a touchdown and contributing 52 yards on receptions and Carden passing for 258 yards, the Pirates were able to slosh to the victory despite four turnovers (three interceptions and a fumble).
"It was hard," McNeill said of the weather." I was proud of the way they kept fighting, they hung in there. We made some mistakes, but we overcame them. We won and everybody had a hand in it.
"We dealt with the rain and we knew we were facing a good team. It was a combination of both really."
East Carolina improved to 3-2, 2-0 in Conference USA. UTEP dropped to 1-4, 0-1.
Cooper seemed to put the game away with a 24-yard run for a touchdown with 4:54 left in the game, giving the Pirates a 28-10 lead.
But Autry Golden returned the ensuing kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown and the Miners made a 2-point conversion to pull within 28-18. Then UTEP recovered an onside kick - and the hardy ECU fans remaining in the stands got a little nervous.
The Pirates' Adonis Armstrong stopped the rally cold, however, coming up with ECU's third interception of UTEP quarterback Nick Lamaison (9-for-27 for 146 yards passing). The Pirates were able to run out the clock without further drama.
"When you are facing an experienced guy, it's hard to fool him," McNeill said. "I thought they did a good job of coming up with key turnovers. I was proud of those guys."
East Carolina finished with 475 yards of total offense, getting 217 yards on the ground - including 63 from Carden. The ECU quarterback, who was 28-for-40 passing, scored a pair of touchdowns on the ground - a 6-yard quarterback draw for ECU's first score and an 8-yard run in the third quarter that put the Pirates up 21-10.
"My running is coming off the other guys playing well," Carden said. "Cooper was running hard and they were keying on him and that opened it up for me."
Carden was disappointed with the interception on the first play after the delay.
"I can't let that happen, especially in the red zone," he said. "The defense played great and kept us in there and the offense came around."
UTEP, meanwhile, totaled 302 yards. A big chunk of those came from Nathan Jeffrey, who finished with 134 yards rushing on 27 carries.
The Pirates kept pressure on Lamaison for much of the game, which contributed to his three interceptions.
"Our front seven was awesome," said ECU defensive back Chip Thompson, who had two interceptions. "The quarterback was under duress. The first [interception], the quarterback just kind of lobbed it to me because he was about to get sacked."
The Pirates were also able to show some consistency on offense despite the sloppy conditions, converting seven of 14 third-down plays. UTEP, meanwhile, was just 2-of-13 on third-down conversions.
"It was good to see that happen," McNeill said. "We have to get off the field more. That is something we've been working on."
Through it all, on a miserable night, the Pirates maintained their focus and came up with their second straight conference victory.
"I was glad to get that win," McNeill said. "To be able to deal with all of that [weather], face some adversity and keep it going was important. That was a tough win."