Pirates Outlast Blazers, 42-35

UABSPORTS.COM Vintavious Cooper rushed for a career-high 172 yards and scored three touchdowns (2 r ush/ 1 receiving) against UAB.
Vintavious Cooper rushed for a career-high 172 yards and scored three touchdowns (2 r ush/ 1 receiving) against UAB.

Oct. 20, 2012

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By Bill Woodward

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - East Carolina and UAB locked up in a Conference USA football shootout on Saturday night at Legion Field. And all the numbers favored the Pirates.

East Carolina rolled up a season-high 600 yards of total offense to outscore the Blazers 42-35, getting 386 yards passing from sophomore quarterback Shane Carden and 172 yards rushing from Vintavious Cooper.

Down 21-13 midway through the third quarter, the Pirates (5-3, 4-1 C-USA) scored touchdowns on four straight offense possessions to outscore the Blazers 29-7 and take a 42-28 lead.

Carden was 23-for-35 passing for two touchdowns, igniting a balanced offense that also piled up 224 yards rushing. Carden, a first-year starter, posted the seventh-best single-game passing yardage mark in ECU history.

"Shane did a good job of orchestrating our offense," East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill said. "We are starting to see the game slow down to Shane, and the kids are getting used to playing with Shane."

Carden completed a 30-yard pass to Cooper to put the Pirates up 27-21. After the Blazers responded with a touchdown to go back up 28-27, he hit receiver Justin Hardy in the corner of the end zone with a 20-yard scoring pass. A two-point conversion gave Pirates the lead for good at 35-28 with 9:21 left in the fourth quarter.

Hardy's catch was an acrobatic grab in which he out-jumped a UAB defender and got one foot down before tumbling out of the end zone.

"That's probably the best catch I've been a part of in my football career," Carden said. "There is a lot to say about that catch. It was an amazing catch."

After having issues with sacks at times this season, the Pirates' offensive line gave up only one to the Blazers.

"As soon as the game was over, I said, `Hey thanks men,' " Carden said. "I had a great pocket all night. They played outstanding tonight and that was the difference [in the game]."

Hardy, who finished with 132 yards on six catches, continues to be the big-play guy for the Pirates. He described the pivotal touchdown catch in simple terms.

"[The defender] was on me but I just concentrated real hard on the ball and caught it," said Hardy, who was pleased with his offense's big second half. "We came out in the second half and had four possessions and scored [touchdowns] on each one of them. That was the way to respond."

Cooper, a junior college transfer, had a career high in rushing yards and accounted for three touchdowns, scoring on runs of one and three yards and grabbing the 30-yard scoring strike from Carden.

Cooper also credited the offensive line's work for the big numbers the Pirates put up.

"The offense executed well," Cooper said. "I just happened to be the guy behind the offensive line tonight. They played an exceptional game. As far as executing, they opened up lanes for every back that was on the roster, every receiver. It was an overall great effort for the team, an overall great effort for the offense."

UAB quarterback Austin Brown passed for 319 yards and three touchdowns, but the Blazers couldn't keep pace with the Pirates. And when the game was in the balance in the final minutes, they couldn't stop the Pirates.

After UAB's Darrin Reaves scored from nine yards out to cut the Pirates' lead to 42-35, East Carolina took over with 3:47 remaining in the game.

Cooper ran out the clock by himself, carrying the ball four straight times to pick up two first downs. The first three runs went for five, three and four yards and gained a time-eating first down. Then he broke a 37-yard run that allowed the Pirates to take one snap from the victory formation and run out the clock.

The Pirates won their sixth straight game against the Blazers (1-6, 0-3), but needed their best offensive effort of the season to do it.

"I thought the guys showed a lot of fortitude," McNeill said of his team's effort. "I was proud of them mentally, physically. Wins are hard to come by on the road. We knew the game would be tough, but the kids responded."