East Carolina Defeats Marshall, 37-10

UABSPORTS.COM Junior Lance Lewis had a team-high six receptions for 55 yards and a score Saturday against Marshall.
Junior Lance Lewis had a team-high six receptions for 55 yards and a score Saturday against Marshall.

Oct. 23, 2010

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GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) - East Carolina entered the season with a new coaching staff, new schemes and a lot of new faces in key positions. Now, midway through Ruffin McNeill's first year, the Pirates look confident they really can defend those back-to-back Conference USA championships.

Senior Jonathan Williams ran for a career-high 111 yards and a touchdown while the overhauled defense turned in its best performance so far to help East Carolina beat Marshall 37-10, keeping the Pirates perfect in league play. The 10 points were the fewest surrendered by ECU this season and the fewest an opponent had scored since UCF had 10 Nov. 2, 2008. 

Dominique Davis threw for 208 yards and two scores as the Pirates (5-2, 4-0) won their ninth-straight league game, tied for the fourth-longest active conference winning streak in the nation. It is East Carolina's best start in C-USA play since winning its first five league tilts in 2001.

It's probably a little more than most people expected when Skip Holtz left for South Florida after last season, leaving McNeill a team that lost a lot of experience on both sides of the ball.

"Everyone has doubts," said linebacker Dustin Lineback, who had 12 tackles. "When a coaching staff leaves, are we going to pick up the system? Are guys going to flow with these coaches? Are they players' coaches? ... At first everyone's going to be a little shaky, but now we're clicking. At first, it started with a puzzle in a box and now we're piecing it together."

The offense that has put up big numbers through the air with a new spread attack fought its way through a sluggish start and finished with at least 30 points for the third straight game and fifth time overall. The defense held the Thundering Herd (1-6, 0-3) to 328 total yards while forcing four turnovers.

"I believe in the kids," McNeill said. "I had high expectations for our football team. I wouldn't back off that. I knew it would be a lot of work replacing a lot of starters and a lot of guys that contributed and were mainstays in the back-to-back championships. So I knew it would be a fight, but I'm very pleased with our guys."

With the victory, McNeill tied his coach at East Carolina, Pat Dye, for the best debut-season seven-game mark in program history.

The game was tied until the Pirates scored twice in the final two-and-a-half minutes of the first half to take a 20-10 lead at the break. The Pirates then scored on their first three drives of the second half to open up the game.

It was Marshall's third straight league loss, with each coming by at least 21 points.

"You have to give East Carolina credit," first-year Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said. "They went in at halftime and made some adjustments, and we had a hard time stopping them in the second half."

Marshall had outgained East Carolina (186-167) in total yardage in the first half while Davis, who came in as the league's top passer at nearly 315 yards per game, threw for just 92 yards. But Williams' powerful 29-yard burst up the middle for a touchdown put East Carolina ahead 17-10 with 2:14 left in the half, a margin that would only grow.

First Davis capped the opening drive of the second half by scampering around the left side untouched for a 26-yard touchdown to make it 27-10. Then, after the second drive ended with a field goal, Williams cracked the 100-yard mark by barreling over would-be tacklers for another bruising run of 21 yards to set up Davis' 10-yard scoring toss to Mike Price for the 37-10 lead with 12:59 left. It was the first touchdown reception of Price's career.

Meanwhile, Marshall's Brian Anderson threw for 217 yards before being pulled for a backup for the third-straight game. He finished 27-for-47 with three interceptions. Marshall's only touchdown was Anderson's 9-yard pass to Troy Evans midway through the second quarter that tied the game at 10-10.

Before the game, there was a moment of silence to honor the 75 victims of the 1970 plane crash that took place as the Marshall team was returning home from a loss at East Carolina. Next month marks the 40th anniversary of the crash.

Next Saturday, East Carolina heads to Orlando for another Conference USA East Division battle, taking on UCF (5-2, 3-0) at 3:30 p.m. The Knights and Pirates are tied for first in the East. The matchup will mark the latest that two undefeated in C-USA teams have played since the league expanded to 12 teams.

The game will be aired on Bright House Networks, MASN and WITN.