Senior Reese Wiggins scored a career-high three touchdowns against UAB
Nov. 16, 2013
By Bill Woodward
GREENVILLE, N.C. - East Carolina's football team set up a one-game showdown at Marshall in two weeks for a divisional title and a berth in the Conference USA championship game with a dominant performance Saturday on Senior Day against UAB.
The Pirates rolled up a season-high 625 yards of total offense, 278 of it on the ground, their highest rushing total for the season, to rout the Blazers 63-14 at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
Since a triple-overtime loss at Tulane, the Pirates have run off four-straight C-USA victories to improve to 6-1 in the league. The winner of the game against Marshall will be the East champion.
"We always talk about controlling our own destiny, and last year we didn't have the privilege of doing that," junior quarterback Shane Carden said. "After the Tulane game, it might have fired up some people in the locker room a little bit. It was like, `Man we can't let all the hard work we've done this offseason and the spring and camp and the whole season get away from us.'
"We kind of turned it up a notch after that game. We've done a good job since then. On Senior Day, it can get emotional a little bit. We did a good job of bottling up those emotions and playing the game we know how to play."
The seniors played a big role in the victory, with seven of the Pirates' nine scores coming from players in their last regular-season game at Dowdy-Ficklen - including a 50-yard interception return for a touchdown by linebacker Kyle Tudor.
Tudor grabbed a pass that was tipped by ECU defensive back Chip Thompson. Tudor took off and picked up a cadre of blockers - including a final block inside the 5-yard line from Adonis Armstrong that got him into the end zone.
"It was tipped up into the air, and I just happened to be right there," Tudor said. "It was kind of a gift. I had a lot of people helping me with blocks. It was really a defensive effort, not just one person. It started to open up and I got kind of excited. It was happening so fast; I couldn't process it that quick. I was just running and trying to get into the end zone.
"I saw Adonis coming up so I tried to set up that block knowing that if I could get that block, I could get in. And I did."
"It's a humbling experience," Wiggins said. "We are just blessed to be part of a senior night. I was trying to make the most of it. I know the other players were too. If there was a picture-perfect way for it to go for me, I guess this was it.
"All the seniors came out with the same mindset of just playing hard, not trying to do too much. We just wanted to do our jobs and luckily we came out with a big night."
It was the theme for the game going in, fourth-year East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill said. A former East Carolina player, McNeill stressed to the whole team to make the experience memorable for the seniors.
"Tonight was a special night," McNeill said. "I chewed the same dirt so I know the feeling very well. I was blessed and fortunate to win the last time I played in Dowdy-Ficklen, so I know it was special to those guys.
"The coaches decided that every call we made tonight, every rep was a senior rep. We told them to go as hard as you can for the seniors, run as hard as you can for the seniors, tackle the best you can for the seniors. Those guys have been with me from the beginning, they have helped set the foundation. They have done everything we have asked and more. It's a great group, I hate to see them go out."
The Pirates improved to 8-2 overall - matching their best start the 1999 team was 8-2 after 10 games and finished 9-3. They chewed up the Blazers (2-8, 1-5) on the ground and got 347 yards passing and five touchdowns from Shane Carden. About the only negative offensively was a pair of Carden interceptions.
The defense more than did its part, limiting UAB's ground-oriented attack to 144 yards rushing and forcing quarterback Jonathan Perry into a 16-for-34 day with a pair of interceptions. The Pirates also recovered a fumble.
"That was one of the things that we focused on was to stop the run," McNeill said. "When you stop one thing, you affect the other."
After failing to score on its first two possessions - a punt and Carden's first interception of the game - the Pirates reeled off touchdowns on four-straight possessions.
The first three came in rapid-fire fashion, with consecutive scoring drives of less than two minutes.
The Pirates went 66 yards in just five plays for their first TD, with Wiggins catching a 5-yard pass as ECU took a 7-0 lead with 4:05 left in the first quarter.
After a three-and-out by the Blazers, the Pirates overcame an offensive pass interference penalty to go 67 in four plays. Wiggins picked up the last 55 when he caught a short pass to the left and streaked down the sideline for a touchdown and a 14-0 ECU lead with 1:00 left in the quarter.
UAB cut the lead to 14-7 with a TD on their next possession, but the Pirates went 65 yards in six plays to go on top 21-7. Cooper broke through a hole on the right side and ran untouched into the end zone from the 26 for the score.
By halftime, the Pirates' offense had ripped off 401 yards of total offense. They were on their way to a big win, putting themselves right where they need to be. With a game at NC State next week and then the showdown at Marshall, they have a chance to bring those seniors back one more time if they can top the Thundering Herd.
If the Pirates win the East and have a better conference record than the West winner, they would host the conference championship game. If they both have the same conference record, the team with the highest BCS ranking would be the host.
The Pirates currently have the highest BCS rank in the conference.
"It's kind of weird," Tudor said. "I know it was Senior Day and our last game here supposedly, but it just didn't feel that way. I just hope we can find the inner strength and win the rest of the way and get one more here."