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ECU Becomes Bowl Eligible With 34-13 Win Over FIU

Go Tigers! Justin Hardy scores on a 44-yard pass from Shane Carden in the first quarter.
Go Tigers!
Justin Hardy scores on a 44-yard pass from Shane Carden in the first quarter.
Go Tigers!

Nov. 2, 2013

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By Bill Woodward
ECUPirates.com

MIAMI, Fla. - Justin Hardy, a quarterback at West Craven High who has become a record-setting wide receiver at East Carolina, still knows how to throw the football.

Hardy completed a 35-yard touchdown pass to Isaiah Jones on an end-around play midway through the fourth quarter to help the Pirates put away Florida International by a 34-13 score - a victory that made ECU bowl-eligible for the seventh time in eight seasons.

East Carolina (6-2, 4-1 Conference USA) went up 21-3 early in the second quarter but did not score again until Hardy's trickery. FIU (1-7, 1-3) dominated time of possession in the game (40:37 to 19:23), but the Pirates came up with key stops after the Panthers had pulled within 21-13 on a 31-yard field goal with 6:06 left in the third quarter.

ECU had punted on its first three possessions of the second half and missed a field goal on its fourth. On their fifth possession of the half, the Pirates reached into their bag of tricks and called on Hardy to pass the ball after taking a pitch from Vintavious Cooper on what looked like a reverse.

Hardy pulled up and hit a wide-open Jones for a TD that put the Pirates up 28-13 and finally put away the pesky Panthers.

"That was big," East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill said. "(Hardy) can throw it and has a good arm. It was a good play by Hardy and a great call by (offensive coordinator) Lincoln (Riley). It was a great job by Hardy of putting it on the money."

The Pirates remain in the hunt for a C-USA championship.

"It's a big first step (to become eligible for a bowl) and it means we are on the right track," ECU quarterback Shane Carden said. "But coming into this season, our vision, our goal was not just to get bowl eligible. We still have our goal of winning this conference. We just have to keep working and get after Tulsa next week."

Carden threw three touchdown passes in the first half - a 44-yarder to Hardy, a 26-yarder to DaQuan Barnes and a 2-yarder to Cooper. The Pirates were up 21-3 and were clicking, but the offense stalled for the next quarter and a half.

"We were moving the ball great," said Carden, who finished 23-for-35 for 264 yards and the three TDs. "It's funny how small we were off on those plays (after the first three touchdowns). I think the defense played great, particularly in the second half. We were ready to win this game and we fought our (rear ends) off."

Hardy caught five passes for 136 yards. His touchdown catch was his 22nd career TD reception, moving him into a tie atop the ECU career list with Lance Lewis (2010-11). But it was the touchdown pass that the Pirates were excited about.

"That was awesome," Carden said. "We have been working on that play for a while. He had a pass earlier this year and kind of overthrew a guy. He threw it and it was a great pass and a great catch.

"I told him my arm was getting a little tired so I'd let him throw one in for me. But really, it's good when you have weapons like that."

Hardy, who passed for 2,500 yards and 35 touchdowns as a senior at West Craven, had no hesitation when asked which he liked more, the TD catch or pass.

"You've got to go with the throw, you've got to," Hardy said.

Pirates field goal kicker Warren Harvey continued his recent struggles, missing a pair of field goal attempts and missing his first point-after kick at ECU - snapping a string of 86-straight PATs. Harvey missed the point-after following Cooper's 2-yard TD run with 1:08 left in the game that gave the Pirates a 34-13 advantage.

The game was tougher than the final score indicated. But unlike a similar game at Tulane this year when the Pirates stumbled on the road, they took care of business against the Panthers and won their seventh straight C-USA East Division game.

"FIU did a good job," McNeill said. "This is the best they have played. I thought our kids came down here and we handled business. To win on the road is always hard. I was proud of our team.

"The kids kept fighting. What I like about this team is they have a great competitive nature about them."