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ECU Wins Thriller Over Marshall In Double-Overtime, 65-59

Go Tigers! Sophomore Justin Hardy caught a school-record 16 passes for 171 yards.
Go Tigers!
Sophomore Justin Hardy caught a school-record 16 passes for 171 yards.
Go Tigers!

Nov. 23, 2012

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By Bill Woodward
ECUPirates.com

GREENVILLE, N.C. - Role reversal.

A year ago, Marshall played the spoiler in East Carolina's campaign - winning in overtime in the season finale to keep the Pirates from going to a bowl game.

On Friday at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, the Pirates returned the favor with a heart-stopping, 65-59 in double-overtime that was the highest-scoring game in Conference USA history.

East Carolina (8-4, 7-1 C-USA) drove 76 yards in the final 1:55 to tie the score and force overtime, scoring with four seconds left in regulation on a 6-yard pass from Shane Carden to Danny Webster. Along the way, Carden completed a fourth-and-10 pass from the 24-yard line.

After both teams scored touchdowns in the first overtime, East Carolina won it in the second overtime when it recovered a fumble on Marshall's possession and then capped a 25-yard march when Carden sneaked in from the 1-yard line for the win.

"Big win, which is probably an understatement," East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill said. "After the game, the first word that came to mind was heart.

"They kept fighting the whole game. If not, that strip [and fumble in the second overtime] doesn't happen. Those things don't happen if you don't have heart."

In the end, the Pirates had the upper hand in a shootout that broke the league record for combined points in a game set when TCU beat Houston 62-55 in 2003.

"On Monday, somebody asked me if I wanted a shootout," McNeill said. "I go, `No, I don't expect one.' Thank God we got one. I have to admit that it was good keeping them out of a bowl like they kept us out last year. I can say that now. I couldn't say that last week. I love [Marshall coach] Doc [Holliday] and what he does up there but it was good to be able to keep them out."

The Pirates needed a record-setting performance from sophomore Justin Hardy and Carden's best game of the season to turn back the Thundering Herd (5-7, 4-4).

Hardy set a single-game receptions record with 16 for 171 yards, eclipsing the school mark of 14 held by Dick Corrada (14 against Southern Illinois in 1970).

Carden completed 38 of 47 passes for 439 yards (single-game record) and three touchdowns and also ran for three touchdowns.

The victory kept alive ECU's hopes for a berth in the league championship game. If UAB pulls of an upset of UCF on Saturday, the Pirates will be headed to Tulsa for the title game. If not, they will be bowl bound with eight wins under their belt.

The Pirates went 7-1 in C-USA for only the second time, matching the 2009 team that won the Conference USA title. ECU went 8-4 in the regular season for the fourth time, matching the 2000, 2008 and 2009 teams.

"I'm proud of the guys for going 7-1 in the conference," McNeill said. "Shane played a great game. Justin Hardy ... do I need to say anything more about how good he is, how banged up he is and to go out and perform at level that he did. What a big night by Shane and a lot of guys."

The East Carolina offense rolled up 555 yards of offense and needed every inch of it against Marshall, which came in with the nation's passing yardage leader in Rakeem Cato, who passed for 318 yards and five touchdowns before leaving the game with a knee injury. Freshman Blake Frohnapfel stepped in continued to move the Herd, passing for 101 yards and a touchdown and also running 51 yards straight up the middle for a touchdown.

Marshall finished with 633 yards of total offense and had ECU's backs to the wall and driving 76 yards for a touchdown to take a 52-45 lead with 1:55 remaining.

Carden and crew were up to the task, however. The sophomore quarterback was clapping on the sidelines before taking the field, extolling his offensive teammates. And then the Pirates went out on the field and delivered a drive for the ages.

Facing a fourth-and-10 at the ECU 24, Carden found Hardy over the middle for 19 yards.

"It was play that I have learned since the first day I was here," Carden said. "A simple read from left to right. A lot times the defender will follow Justin [Hardy] over the middle and it will open up the outside receiver to the right. But they didn't run with [Hardy] and it was just a routine play. It was about making routine plays that last drive.

"That was one of the craziest games I have ever been a part of."

Hardy made two other catches in the drive, one for 16 yards and another 19-yarder to the Marshall 11.

"Hardy was just being his normal self," Carden said of the record night by his favorite target. "He is a great playmaker. If you just get him the ball, he will make plays. He's got great hands. I think they kind of lost track of him tonight and he made some great plays."

With the seconds ticking down, the Pirates still were six yards from the goal line and the tying score.

Carden found Webster at the back of the end zone with four seconds left and the 5-foot-10 sophomore climbed the ladder to make the catch and came down with his feet inbounds near the back of the end zone.

"I got a feeling before the play in the huddle [that the ball was coming to me]," Webster said. "I went up and he gave me a great ball. It was in the spot where I was the only person who could catch it. I just went up and got it."

In the first overtime, senior Andrew Bodenheimer caught a strike from Carden on the Pirates' first play from the 25, grabbing the ball at about the 3-yard line and diving into the end zone.

Marshall matched the score with a 4-yard pass from Fronhapfel to Antavious Wilson.

The Herd got the ball first in the second overtime, but running back Essray Taliaferro was stripped of the ball on Marshall's second play by Chrishon Rose and Derrell Johnson pounced on the ball.

The Pirates needed only a field goal to win, but they got six.

Vintavious Cooper, who passed 1,000 yards rushing for the season on the Pirates' final drive of regulation, carried for six, 12 and another six yards to push the ball to the 1-yard line. Carden sneaked for the win, setting off a wild celebration.

"It means a lot [to get 1,000 yards]," said Cooper, who finished with 52 yards on 14 carries and had two touchdown runs to push his season total to 1,030 yards. "I feel like it is an accomplishment for the whole offense because it is rare that you have a 1,000-yard rusher. I am excited about for myself and my offensive line."

Cooper became the first ECU back to rush for 1,000 yards in a season since Dominique Lindsay in 2009.

"Cooper was a little beat up," McNeill said. "He's been beat up for the past few weeks, but we wanted to get him 1,000. When it counted, he was in there and he came through."

Hardy also reached a milestone with his season-high 171 yards, topping the 1,000-yard mark for the season (1,046) - the first Pirates receiver to do that since Dwayne Harris in 2010.

In the end, the Pirates needed all the individual efforts to turn the tables on Marshall.

"The feeling we had walking off the field last year, the feeling at Marshall, it was a sick feeling," Bodenheimer said. "Not going to a bowl. I told the guys we aren't going to have that feeling ever again. We did what we had to do tonight and we just happened to knock them out of a bowl game."