Shane Carden recorded his third career 400-yard passing game to set a new ECU record.
Oct. 12, 2013
By Bill Woodward
NEW ORLEANS, La. - Missed scoring opportunities sent East Carolina to a disappointing 36-33 triple overtime loss to Tulane Saturday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The Pirates (4-2, 2-1 Conference USA) had trouble in the red zone for nearly the entire game, settling for field goals four times and throwing an interception that was returned for a touchdown in a game the Pirates dominated statistically - rolling up 543 total yards of offense to 310 for Tulane (5-2, 3-0).
Still, the Pirates had a chance to win at the end of regulation after rallying from a 19-9 deficit to tie the score at 19-19 on a 2-yard run by Vintavious Cooper with 1:48 remaining.
After forcing a Tulane punt, the Pirates moved to the Tulane 25 and Warren Harvey lined up for a 42-yard field goal attempt with three seconds left that would have won it. The kick sailed wide left, setting up overtime.
After struggling to find the end zone in regulation, the Pirates came out hot in the first two overtimes. Shane Carden, who set a school record with 480 yards passing, threw a 25-yard scoring pass to Reese Wiggins on the first play of the first overtime.
Tulane matched the TD to tie it at 26-26 and scored first in the second overtime to go up 33-26.
The Pirates came up with an answering touchdown, getting a first down on fourth down when Tulane jumped offside, and overcoming a holding penalty when Carden and Cooper hooked up on a 20-yard completion to set up a first-and-goal at the 2-yard line. Cooper ran it in on the next play to tie it at 33-33.
East Carolina had the ball first in the third overtime. And this time, they sputtered. On fourth-and-13 from the 17-yard line, Harvey missed a 34-yard field goal attempt to the right.
Tulane's Cairo Santos trotted out onto the field on the Green Waves' first play and drilled a 42-yarder (his fifth field goal in six attempts in the game) to send the Pirates to the disheartening defeat.
Tulane coach Curtis Johnson said he didn't hesitate to bring Santos into the game without running a play in the third overtime.
"Without a doubt I set up for the field goal on the first play, because when you have the best kicker in the nation, that's what you do," Johnson said. "I don't want to run a play, I don't want to do anything but make the kick and come in here and visit with you guys."
For the Pirates, who had won five straight against Tulane before Saturday, it was a story of what might have been.
"It was a tough loss," East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill said. "The kids are taking it pretty hard."
East Carolina got a record-setting day from junior receiver Justin Hardy, who had 17 receptions for 230 yards - both school records. Hardy broke his own single-game reception record of 16 he caught last season against Marshall and this season in the opener against Old Dominion, and topped the previous yardage mark of 218 yards set by Terry Gallaher against Appalachian State in 1975.
The Pirates marched up and down the field, but could not finish a drive with a touchdown until the final two minutes of regulation.
On the first possession of the game, East Carolina cruised to the Tulane 1-yard line but had to settle for a 21-yard field goal by Harvey. Later the Pirates drove to the 13 and came away with a 30-yarder by Harvey.
The most hurtful red-zone miscue came late in the third quarter when East Carolina had a first-and-goal at the 3 and Tulane's Derrick Strozier intercepted a Carden pass and raced 99 yards for a touchdown that gave Tulane a 16-6 lead.
"There were some opportunities before the end of the game, but I was proud of the way we fell down by 10 and were able to battle back," McNeill said. "I thought we made some good decisions to get back in the game and had a chance to win it at the end. You've got to make those plays.
"We came up short, but I liked the way the kids kept fighting, kept believing."
Cooper came back from an injury he suffered against Middle Tennessee and played well, rushing for 87 yards and two touchdowns and catching six passes for 84 yards.
Carden finished 41-for-55 with one touchdown and the record 480 yards.
"They were showing us some different looks and we were worried too much about what they were showing us, and not just lining up and playing football," Carden said of the offense's early problems with getting the ball in the end zone. "We were making corrections on the sideline, but to a point you got to just line up and play. We were letting what they were doing affect us a little too much. We were playing a little clutter-minded and not clear-minded how we normally like to play. We were not playing at a fast pace like we normally like to."
Carden said the Pirates would rally around Harvey, who made four field goals but missed three attempts, including the crucial ones at the end of the regulation and in the third overtime.
"I will just tell him that it is absolutely not his fault that we lost the game," Carden said. "We had plenty of opportunities. I had one terrible read and that cost us a 14-point swing. It is never just one man, especially in football. We had plenty of opportunities to win. I understand he is going to be down, but we are going to learn from this game and be ready for Southern Miss."
The Pirates will have to put the loss behind them quickly, facing Southern Miss at home next Saturday at noon in another C-USA game.
"Our goals are still in front of us," McNeill said. "We have to be ready to make sure that tomorrow night we are ready to prepare for Southern Miss at home. The next three-game segment is all conference games.
"We have to look at film, make corrections and move on."