Pirates Power Past Blazers, 31-23
Nov. 26, 2005
GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) - Skip Holtz's first season at East Carolina ended like it began: with a win.
James Pinkney threw for two touchdowns and scored on a 24-yard keeper in the fourth quarter Saturday to lead East Carolina past UAB 31-23, sending the Pirates into the offseason with consecutive wins and a feeling that the worst is behind them.
Bobby Good had both TD catches for the Pirates (5-6, 4-4 Conference USA), who showed significant improvement from a miserable two-year run under John Thompson.
The Pirates still finished with a losing record and missed a bowl game for the fourth straight season. But considering where this program has been, it's easy to see why Holtz was beaming after his team had beaten the Blazers (5-6, 3-5).
"To be in that locker room and see some of the eyes fill with joy and tears, knowing all the hard work they put into building this thing, that's what it's all about," Holtz said. "I couldn't be happier for these players.
"For the guys who won't put on an East Carolina uniform again, they're going to walk out of here with a smile on their face and their head held high for the progress we've made."
East Carolina's once-proud program - which boasted a top-10 ranking in 1991 and 12 bowl appearances - had been in a steady decline ever since blowing a 30-point halftime lead in a 64-61 double-overtime loss to Marshall in the 2001 GMAC Bowl.
Going back to the final two games of 2002, East Carolina had lost 22 of 25 games entering the season. Nineteen of the losses came by double-digit margins, with seven by at least 33 points. Thompson lasted just two seasons, going 3-20 in that time.
But Holtz led the Pirates to a 24-21 win against Duke in the opener to restore some optimism here. And though Holtz - the former South Carolina assistant and son of Lou Holtz - expressed disappointment that his team couldn't reach a bowl game, East Carolina heads into the offseason with an entirely different feeling than the one that followed after closing last year with a 52-14 loss to North Carolina State in Charlotte.
"We wanted to send our seniors out as winners and we did, to give them a little satisfaction and feel like they turned this program around," Good said.
The Blazers, however, ended with a step backward. After reaching its first bowl last season, UAB's bid for a repeat trip ultimately faded when the Blazers fell behind in the third quarter and never recovered.
Darrell Hackney and Corey White each ran for touchdowns, while Hackney threw for 278 yards. But the quarterback threw three interceptions - two to Pierre Bell - and couldn't lead his team to the end zone in the second half after guaranteeing a win against the Pirates last week.
"This game was the season," UAB coach Watson Brown said. "We just didn't make enough plays to finish and win games. It seemed like it was always a different mistake. Today it was the defense and then we just didn't get the ball in the end zone."
Holtz said his team wasn't focused on Hackney's prediction, though the Pirates didn't seem shy about talking about it afterward.
"He ain't going to no bowl just like we ain't going to no bowl," said linebacker Chris Moore, who closed his career with 11 tackles and a sack.
Pinkney got the best of the matchup even though top receiver Aundrae Allison, who earlier had become the first player in school history with a 1,000-yard receiving season, sat out almost the entire second half with a right knee injury. Pinkney also led the Pirates despite getting little help from the ground game, where Chris Johnson managed 52 yards and a score.
But Pinkney completed 21 of 33 passes for 286 yards and had no turnovers while also running for 47 yards.
Pinkney found Good for a 55-yard touchdown in the first half, and went to him again to put the Pirates ahead to stay. Pinkney found Good on the right side of the end zone for the 15-yard score - an official ruled that Good was allowed to come back inbounds and make the catch because the defender had pushed him out - and a 24-17 lead with 7:17 left in the third quarter.
The Blazers clawed to within 24-23 on a pair of field goals by Parker Mullins. But Pinkney gave the Pirates some breathing room when he escaped the collapsing pocket against the blitz and raced down the middle of the field for a 31-23 lead with 10:22 to play.
The Blazers had two chances to tie it in the final 4 minutes. But one drive ended with a fourth-down incompletion with about 3 minutes left, and the second ended when Hackney threw his second interception to Bell with 1:52 to go.