Dec. 22, 2012
By Bill Woodward
NEW ORLEANS, La. - East Carolina rallied from a 21-point first-half deficit, but missed opportunities and a relentless Louisiana offense were too much for the Pirates to overcome in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl on Saturday.
Down 28-7 in the second quarter, the Pirates scored 14 points in a 13-second span near halftime and tied the score at 31-31 in the third quarter before falling 43-34 to the Ragin' Cajuns at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
"We had our opportunities and I was proud of our team," East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill said. "We got it where we were in the in the ball game and had a chance to win toward the end...They fought hard and we had a great week of preparation. We came up short today, but there was nothing to hang our hats about and I told our kids that. Our kids fought well. We just came up short against a really good football team."
East Carolina finished the season 8-5. Louisiana won the New Orleans Bowl for the second straight season to finish 9-4.
Held to 22 yards of offense and no first downs in the first quarter, the Pirates found their spark in the second frame after falling behind by 21 points.
Sophomore quarterback Shane Carden drove the Pirates 81 yards, finding Justin Hardy for a 19-yard touchdown that cut the lead to 28-14 with 3:09 left in the first half. The Cajuns fumbled on the ensuing kickoff return and Justin Venable pounced on it at the ULL 16-yard line.
On first down, Carden hit Danny Webster for a touchdown and the Pirates were within seven points, 28-21.
Thirteen seconds, fourteen ECU points; what looked like a Cajuns' cakewalk turned into a high-wire act the rest of the way.
East Carolina tied the score at 31-31 on a 13-yard run by Reggie Bullock and the point-after with 5:57 left in the third quarter.
After the Cajuns answered with a Terrance Broadway touchdown pass, ECU's Terry Williams blocked the extra point and Louisiana was up 37-31.
A 26-yard field goal by Warren Harvey cut the deficit to 37-34 and the Pirates came up with an interception off Broadway on the Cajuns' next possession. Carden returned the favor, however, throwing his only interception of the game two plays later.
The Pirates continued to battle, holding the Cajuns to a field goal at the end of a long drive to trail 40-34 with 3:11 remaining.
Taking over at their own 25 after a touchback, the Pirates had one last shot to pull out their first bowl victory since 2007. However, Carden misfired on third-and-5 and fourth-and-5 passes from the ECU 30.
Louisiana tacked on a game-sealing field goal of 39 yards from Brett Baer with 10 seconds remaining.
The Ragin' Cajuns finished with 591 yards of total offense, with Broadway leading the way. The sophomore quarterback passed for 316 yards and a touchdown and ran for 108 yards and another score. Running back Alonzo Harris added 125 yards and two rushing touchdowns as Louisiana rolled to 267 yards on the ground.
After their sputtering first quarter, the Pirates' offense was nearly as effective as the Cajuns' crew. The Pirates had 399 yards of offense over the final three quarters to finish with 421 for the game.
Carden went 25-for-42 for 278 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. Bullock, one of 17 ECU seniors playing their final game for the Pirates, had 104 yards rushing on 17 carries and ran for two touchdowns.
"I was proud of Reggie," McNeill said. "Our offensive line did a great job of blocking and Reggie did a great job, had great vision. He got hot, got on a roll. And with that hot hand, you leave him in there."
Andrew Bodenheimer, another senior, caught five passes for 65 yards to end his career with receptions in 33 straight games.
"This group has been with me for three years," McNeill said of his seniors. "Andrew Bodenheimer sent me a text [before the season] and said, `Coach I don't want to be the foundation any more. I've heard you say that at the last two banquets.' I said, `Let's do something about it.' And he did.
"They are not the foundation. They are the blueprint. Every team that follows under our watch will follow what this senior class has exhibited...They did everything that has been asked of them. Pirate Nation, East Carolina University should be proud of them. I know I am."
McNeill's third season as head coach at his alma mater saw the Pirates put up eight victories and go 7-1 in Conference USA to finish in a tie for first place in their division.
"We had a great year," McNeill said. "We were picked to finish near the bottom of our division and ended up tying for the lead. I think that is something that cannot be overlooked with our kids."
McNeill was also proud of the way his young players developed. The Pirates return many of their top offensive weapons, including Carden, fellow sophomore Justin Hardy and junior running back Vintavious Cooper.
Carden, who did not become the starting quarterback until the third game of the season, finished with 3,116 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2012.
Hardy, who had five catches for 59 yards in the bowl game, has 1,763 receiving yards in just two seasons to move into third place on the ECU career chart. Cooper finished the season with 1,055 yards rushing and eight TD runs.
"I am very pleased with [the underclassmen]," McNeill said. "I am pleased with the way they stepped up. They took advantage of their opportunities and kept working hard. We have a very good group [coming back]."