North Carolina Downs East Carolina, 35-20
Oct. 1, 2011
GREENVILLE, N.C. - A 28-point outburst in the first half Saturday helped propel North Carolina to a 35-20 victory over East Carolina at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. The contest was played in front of a facility-record 50,610 fans.
Despite the setback, the Pirates out-gained the Tar Heels 490-456 but were hampered by four turnovers, three of which occurred in the first half and resulted in 14 points for the visitors. North Carolina scored four of its five touchdowns through the air, as quarterback Bryn Renner found Dwight Jones and Erik Highsmith for a combined 187 yards and three scores.
"The first half, we got ourselves in a hole," head coach Ruffin McNeill said. "In the second half, I was very proud of our kids. We'll keep working. We have a conference game next week and have a chance to contend and win our division and league. We'll keep growing as a team and getting better."
Meanwhile, ECU quarterback Dominique Davis set a program single-game record with 417 aerial yards, surpassing David Garrard's 414 thrown against Memphis Nov. 21, 1998. Davis also became the first player in school history to produce multiple games with at least 400 yards passing. He found eight receivers in the contest, with senior Lance Lewis setting a career high with 166 yards on 10 catches. Freshman Justin Hardy also caught 10 passes for 73 yards.
Defensively, redshirt freshman Jeremy Grove tallied 13 tackles, matching his season average. He is the first player to amass 10 or more stops in the first four games of a season since Pernell Griffin in 2001. Making his season debut after returning from injury, sophomore inside linebacker Kyle Tudor booked a personal-best five tackles.
"I'm proud of the defense," McNeill stated. "Those kids battled against a team that is as talented as South Carolina and Virginia Tech. We'll continue to watch film and get better. But my hat goes off to [North Carolina head coach] Everett Withers and that football team."
North Carolina opened the scoring at the 9:33 mark of the first quarter when Jheraine Boyd hauled in an 11-yard pass from Renner after Davis threw an interception at his own 17, giving the Tar Heels great field position.
Another East Carolina turnover, this time as the Pirates were driving deep into North Carolina territory, allowed the Tar Heels to double their advantage. With just over six minutes remaining in the first quarter, junior Reggie Bullock fumbled and North Carolina capitalized as Renner tossed a 75-yard pass to an open Highsmith down the middle who ran untouched into the endzone.
The Tar Heels opened the second period with the ball and wasted little time scoring again. Giovanni Bernard capped a nine-play drive which spanned 92 yards with a 10-yard rush, making the score 21-0.
ECU broke North Carolina's run with a Mike Barbour 35-yard field goal with 7:40 left before the half, but North Carolina responded with a Renner 47-yard touchdown pass to Jones on the subsequent drive to establish its largest cushion of the contest. The 25-point deficit marked the largest in the first-half for the Pirates since trailing No. 5 West Virginia 27-0 on Sept. 22, 2007.
Lewis provided East Carolina's first touchdown of the day early in the third quarter when he hooked up with Davis for a 23-yard aerial score, slicing the Tar Heel lead to 28-10. After stopping North Carolina on its next drive, Barbour added his second field goal of the night to bring the Pirates to within two possessions.
With multiple opportunities to stop the Tar Heels on their first possession of the fourth quarter, ECU allowed North Carolina to convert five third-down chances, eventually leading to a four-yard touchdown strike from Renner to Jones which pushed the visitors' lead to 35-13.
Danny Webster scored his first career touchdown with 2:49 remaining on a four-yard grab from Davis, but that would close the scoring as the Pirates received the ball just once more.
"North Carolina did a great job," McNeill added. "They're a powerful football team. Everett has done a great job. Their offensive and defensive lines are very powerful and they have a chance to contend for the ACC Championship."
East Carolina returns to Conference USA play Saturday, Oct. 8, traveling to Houston. The game is scheduled for 7 p.m. and will be shown nationally on CBS Sports Network.