The Start of It All
Sept. 17, 2013
By Malcolm Gray,
Each era has a beginning and the (Dowdy) Ficklen Stadium one started in 1963 with a win over Wake Forest. Since that September afternoon, East Carolina has posted 167 victories inside its revered gates, winning more than 66 percent of its games here. The memories that so many fans and alumni of the Pirate Nation hold dear occurred on this illustrious ground 50 years ago.
After dropping a 10-7 decision at Richmond to begin the 1963 campaign, the Pirates opened Ficklen Memorial Stadium in front of 17,000 spectators defeating Atlantic Coast Conference member Wake Forest, 20-10. Trailing 3-0 early in the contest, Tom Michel gave ECU its first lead of the season scoring from two-yards out. Wake Forest's Brian Piccolo capped off a nine-play, 65-yard drive an on option play and converted the PAT staking the Demon Deacons to a 10-6 advantage. But ECC answered when Buddy Bovender returned the ensuing kickoff 78 yards to put the Pirates ahead for good, 12-10.
The Southern Conference hopeful Pirates then reeled off eight-straight victories including shutout wins over Elon (6-0), Western Carolina (50-0) and Lenoir-Rhyne (28-0).
ECC, who earned its first bowl invite since 1954, capped off its first nine-win season by defeating Northeastern in the Eastern Bowl, 27-6. Michel scored the first Pirate touchdown on a 15-yard run in the first quarter before a pair of Northeastern field goals tied the game at 6-all. From that point on, the game belonged to the Pirates. Michel put ECC up for good early in the second half when he took a lateral and ran 82 yards for the tie-breaking score. Less than three minutes later, Larry Rudisill scored on an 81-yard pass from Bill Cline before18-yard pass from Bovender to Maurice Allen gave the Pirates their final score of the contest.
ECC's 14-game winning streak came to an end against rival Richmond, 22-20, on Oct. 24. Taking advantage of a Pirate fumble on the ECC three-yard line, the Spiders scored in the first three minutes of play taking an early 7-0 lead. Dave Alexander then tied the game picking off a Richmond pass and returning it 31 yards for a touchdown. However, Richmond regained the lead with a safety and a pair of touchdowns to take a 22-7 lead at the half. In true ECC fashion, the Pirates didn't go down without a fight as Alexander scored a pair of second half touchdowns. But two missed PATs were the difference in the contest and Richmond stunned the Pirates.
Following its lone setback of the year, ECC closed out the regular season with wins over The Citadel (19-10), Furman (34-14) and Presbyterian (49-8) and were clicking on all cylinders when it met up with Massachusetts in the Tangerine Bowl.
Billed annually as the NCAA Atlantic Coast Small College Championship, the Redmen scored in the second quarter taking a 7-0 lead at the half. They scored again in the third quarter on a 61-yard pass but the missed extra point would comeback to cost the Redmen. After the kickoff and an exchange of punts, the Pirates drove to the Massachusetts three-yard line where George Richardson scored on run up the middle. ECC decided to go for two-point conversion, but the referee ruled that Dave Bumgarner trapped All-American Bill Cline's pass, keeping the score at 13-6.
In the fourth quarter the Pirates capped off a 90-yard drive with Cline going around the end for a nine-yard run pulling ECC within one, 13-12. The Pirates again elected to go for the two-point conversion and Cline's pass to Pete Crane was successful giving the Pirates a 14-13 victory and securing their second consecutive nine-win season. Joining Cline with post-season honors were Bumgarner and Ted Day, who both were named honorable mention All-America and Coach Stasavich was named NCAA College Division Coach-of-the-Year.
All-American fullback Dave Alexander and a stingy Pirate defense guided ECC to seven consecutive wins to close out the regular season. Alexander accounted for 17 touchdowns, which included four passing scores, and the defense held its opponents to a mere 43 points (6.1 ppg) posting four shutouts.
Highlighting the 1965 campaign was a return trip to the Tangerine Bowl where the Pirates defended their title with a 31-0 win over Maine. Alexander ended his college football career scoring a pair of touchdowns, gaining 206 yards of total offense and took home the offensive player-of-the-game trophy. ECC jumped out to an early 10-0 lead at halftime behind a 24-yard field goal by Pete Kriz and a 35-yard scoring strike from George Richardson to Jim Abernathy.
After the second-half kickoff, the Pirates drove 67 yards down the field with Alexander going over the top from one yard out. Just minutes later, Todd Hicks intercepted a Maine pass to set up another touchdown, this time coming on a five-yard pass from Alexander to Churchill Grimes. Alexander scored the final touchdown of the game and his career as he broke through the right side of the line and scampered 56 yards to pay dirt. It was the third consecutive bowl victory for the Pirates, second-straight Eastern Regional NCAA Championship and third consecutive season that Stasavich engineered the Pirates to a nine-win season.