Over and Through the 1970s
Sept. 17, 2013
By Malcolm Gray,
The 1970s were a memorable decade of East Carolina Pirate football. ECU won three Southern Conference titles in a five-year span and became and independent following its third championship in 1976. In just their second year as an independent, the Pirates received a bid to the Independence Bowl where they defeated Louisiana Tech, 35-13. Most Pirate fans will remember the dominance in which ECU captured back-to-back title in 1972 and '73 winning with some of the greatest players in school history. Those two championship teams further enhanced the budding passion for Pirate football.
Following a 4-6 season under first-year head coach Sonny Randle, East Carolina turned in the first of two consecutive undefeated Southern Conference ledgers and captured its first league title since 1966. Behind SoCon Player-of-the-Year Carlester Crumpler, who rushed for 1,309 yards and scored 17 TDs, and quarterback Carl Summerell the Pirates sprinted out to a 5-0 record outscoring their opponents 132-31, which included a pair of shutouts.
ECU opened up the campaign with a 30-3 win at VMI scoring 30 unanswered points behind Summerell's three passing touchdowns, which included an 83-yard strike to Tim Dameron in the first quarter. Crumpler kicked off the season with a two-yard run before Summerell connected with Dameron and Stan Eure in the final stanza.
The first of ECU's two shutouts came in week two at home against Southern Illinois, 16-0. Freshman Rick McLester drilled three field goals (37,25, 25) and Summerell scored the games only touchdown in the third quarter. ECU's stingy defense, which was known as the "Wild Dogs", held the Salukis to minus seven yards rushing in the contest and after just two weeks, the Pirates led the nation in total defense. Summerell accounted for four of ECU's five scores against Appalachian State (3 pass, 1 rush) helping the Pirates erase a 7-0 deficit for a 35-7 victory.
Seven days later, ECU's "Wild Dogs" posted a shutout - this time against Richmond, 21-0 - for the second time in three weeks. Crumpler gave ECU an early 6-0 lead in the first quarter before the Pirates defense recorded a safety. Summerell connected with Vic Wilfore on a nine-yard pass and McLester split the uprights for a pair of field goals late in the game.
ECU's early success resulted in a program first as their home game against The Citadel (Oct. 14) was televised by ABC as the Game-of-the-Week. ECU bolted to a 20-0 halftime lead on a pair of McLester field goals, Crumpler's three-yard plunge and Summerell's 31-yard TD pass to Dameron. But the Bulldogs rallied for 21 second-half points before Summerell scored on an 18-yard run narrowly escaping with a 27-21 victory.
After back-to-back wins over Furman (27-21) and Chattanooga (33-7), the Pirates played host to William & Mary with the Southern Conference Championship on the line. Both teams entered the game with clean league records and the winner of the contest would be crowned league champion. In front of 15,000 Pirate faithful, Crumpler rushed for 124 yards on 34 carries and scored all three ECU touchdowns enroute to a 21-15 victory.
The Pirates concluded the 1972 season with their first nine-win season since 1965, including a perfect 6-0 league record, which culminated in ECU's second SoCon title. To go along with Crumpler's Player-of-the-Year honors, Randle was named Coach-of-the-Year, while Eure, Danny Kepley, Rusty Markland, Summerell and Greg Troupe joined Crumpler as all-league selections. The trio of Crumpler, Kepley and Summerell also garnered honorable mention All-America honors.
Heading into the season, the Pirates were primed to make a run at another Southern Conference title. Returning on offense were all-conference selections: Crumpler, Eure, Summerell and Troupe, while the "Wild Dogs" defense once again featured all-league and honorable mention All-American Kepley.
After a season-opening loss, the Pirates rebounded and reeled off six-straight victories outscoring their opponents 190-35 with three shutouts. Following a 13-0 victory at Southern Miss, ECU continued its three-game road trip and to Carbondale, Ill., where it cruised to a 45-25 win over Southern Illinois.
Two weeks later the "Wild Dogs" were back at it again posting their second shutout in as many weeks, this time recording a clean sheet against Davidson in a 45-0 route holding the Wildcats were held to minus 11 yards rushing. Ken Strayhorn had his finest game of the season, rushing for 156 yards on 15 carries which included scoring runs of 88, 12 and six yards. Summerell hooked up with Eure for two a pair of touchdown strikes of 58 and 54 yards, while Jimmy Howe scored on a one-yard run and Jim Woody added a 38-yard field goal to go with his six PATs.
ECU clinched its second-straight conference title cruising to a 44-14 Homecoming win over Richmond. Summerell, the eventual SoCon Player-of-the-Year, hit Vic Wilfore on a 68-yard pass for the contests first score. Strayhorn scored on a one-yard run, while Eure extended the lead to 21-7 on a 13-yard TD reception. Woody connected on three-straight field goals for a 30-7 halftime advantage. Crumpler added a 41-yard run and Mike Shea's two-yard catch rounded out the Pirates' touchdown parade. Summerell earned SoCon Player-of-the-Week honors, while Kepley was named Associated Press Defensive Player-of the-Week.
The Pirates closed out the 1973 campaign in style with a 49-14 win over Appalachian State to post another 9-2 record and a perfect 7-0 league mark. Head Coach Sonny Randle was again named SoCon Coach-of-the-Year, while eight players garnered all-league honors including repeat honorees Crumpler, Eure, Kepley, Summerell and Troupe.