Junior Shane Carden
Nov. 09, 2013
By Bill Woodward
GREENVILLE, N.C. - Coming into Saturday's football game against Tulsa, East Carolina junior quarterback Shane Carden had accounted for nearly 70 percent (55 of 81) of the Pirates' offensive touchdowns this season.
Against the Golden Hurricane, Carden was a perfect 7-for-7. Carden threw for five touchdowns - completing 34 of 50 passes for 384 yards--and ran for two more as the Pirates rolled to a 58-24 victory in front of a homecoming crowd of 44,076.
"With the system we run, Shane is very vital," East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeil said. "Checking to the right play, getting rid of the football, distributing the football properly. Shane has that kind of ability and gets better each week. I like the way Shane has progressed."
Carden spread the ball around to ECU's deep pool of receivers, completing passes to 10 receivers.
Junior Justin Hardy had a record-setting day, catching 10 passes for 99 yards and a touchdown. Hardy's 5-yard score in the third quarter on a slant pattern was his 23rd career TD reception - breaking Lance Lewis' record of 22 set from 2010-11. Hardy also hit the 1,000-yard reception yardage mark for the second-straight season - the first time any ECU receiver has put together two 1,000-yard seasons.
"Justin is one of those guys who is very humble and wants to give credit to everyone else," McNeill said of Hardy's accomplishment. "Shane and Justin have become a pretty good combo.
"With Justin, you won't see any complacency. If anything, you will see him turn it up a notch. You'll see him after practice running routes, trying to get sharper. Hats off to `Deuce.' "
Carden also had a pair of 1-yard sneaks for TDs, becoming the finisher when the Pirates were knocking on the door. He credited his offensive line and running back Vintavious Cooper (67 yards on 17 carries) with getting the Pirates on the doorstep and setting up his rushing scores.
"I'm just lucky enough to get the 1-yard runs," Carden said. "I just kind of look at Coop and say, `Hey, that's your touchdown. You drove down the field and you carried the load.' The 1-yard rushes are really offensive line touchdowns.
"The offense doesn't completely revolve around me. With the running backs and receivers we have, they get it down to the one and I just get the touchdown a lot of times."
But Carden is the triggerman, the guy calling the shots in the Pirates' potent offense. He has passed for 2,973 yards and 24 touchdowns for the Pirates (7-2, 5-1 Conference USA) and is the guy in control on the field.
"I love having control of what is going on," Carden said. "In this offense, I do have a lot of control. There are so many different styles of playmakers on this team. The different styles of receivers we have makes is so much easier. Teams can't just play us one way. They take away one thing, they are going to give us something else."
And East Carolina was in a taking mood on Saturday. On offense and defense.
The turning point of the game came late in the first half. With ECU up 14-10, the Pirates' Zeek Bigger picked of a Dane Evans pass near midfield and returned it to the Tulsa 18-yard line.
On the next play, Carden hit Jones with a short pass and the electrifying rookie made several Tulsa players miss tackles en route to a touchdown that put the Pirates up 21-10.
"I thought that was a big swing for us," McNeill said. "I told Zeek after Tuesday's practice it was time for him to get a turnover. He's got great hands and is a good athlete.
"That is what I am talking about when I talk about complementary football. The defense makes a play and the offense takes advantage of their opportunity. That is what I want our team to be able to do, is take advantage of opportunities like that."
The Pirates kept their foot on the gas in the second half, outscoring Tulsa (2-7, 1-4) 21-7 to begin the half and go up 42-17.
The defense was opportunistic with the Pirates picking off three Tulsa passes. The capper came when DaShaun Amos picked off a pass in the end zone on the game's final play and returned it 100 yards for a touchdown, which tied a school record (Kevin Monroe had a 100-yard interception return for a TD against Louisville in 1998).
"The takeaways were big and to get a score on a takeaway was big-time," McNeill said. "I was proud of the defense. That was not a 24-point defensive effort tonight."
The Golden Hurricane scored one of its touchdowns on defense with a fumble return. East Carolina had a total offense edge of 505 yards to 363.
With Carden at the controls, the Pirates' offense is hard to stop when it gets in a rhythm. Such was the case on Saturday.