Senior Vintavious Cooper
Sept. 28, 2013
By Bill Woodward
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - East Carolina running back Vintavious Cooper was a little tired after Saturday's 55-31 victory over North Carolina.
And with good reason.
Cooper rushed 35 times for 186 yards and caught eight passes for 70 yards. All were career highs for the senior who transferred to East Carolina from Southwest Mississippi Community College prior to the start of the 2012 season.
"Yeah, I'm a little tired and beat up," Cooper said with a smile. "But that's fine, as long as we got the "W."
The Pirates got a big "W," beating in-state rival North Carolina in Chapel Hill for the first time since 1975.
Cooper, who rushed for 1,049 yards last season, had 161 yards rushing on 40 carries in the Pirates' 2-1 start to the season. He almost equaled those carries on Saturday - eclipsing his ECU high of 33 he had last season against Houston.
"Coach talked all week about being more balanced and establishing the run game at the beginning of the game," Cooper said. "Our running game opened it up for the passing game."
Cooper carried the ball four times for 23 yards on the Pirates' opening possession, a 73-yard touchdown drive. And the Pirates kept getting him the ball, either handing it to him or quarterback Shane Carden finding him for short passes that led to consistent gains.
Cooper accounted for 16 of ECU's 36 first downs against the Tar Heels (11 rushing, 5 receiving). The high number of carries wasn't intentional, East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill said.
"It just happens that way with this offense," McNeill said. "We try to get everybody touches.
"Shane did a good job of being patient and letting Tay get one-on-one in space. I was proud of Tay."
Carden had a front-row seat for Cooper's big day. And the Pirates' quarterback enjoyed watching his backfield mate rip off chunks of yards against the Tar Heels.
"The whole game he was running the ball very well," Carden said. "On the sidelines, I asked him how he felt. He said, 'I feel great, how do you feel?' He did a great job."
While Cooper piled up the yards (256 total) to put Pirates in scoring position all day long, he never found the end zone. Carden rushed for three short touchdowns, faking the handoff to Cooper and then taking it in himself on the option.
"We had been running with Coop all the way down the field," Carden said. "They were crashing in on him, and it's an easy read. I told him, `Man you did all the work and I got the TD,' "
Cooper didn't mind. He just liked the feeling of having the football in his hands all afternoon.
"It wasn't planned for me to have a big individual game, but it happened and I'm glad it did," Cooper said. "My hats off to the offensive line. They played tremendous all day.
"You never know what is going to happen before the game starts. You prepare for it, but to say that I knew that I would have 35 carries before the game, that would be a total lie."
Cooper averaged 5.3 yards per carry, his longest run of the day a 28-yarder. He just kept grinding it out, five or six yards at a time.
"You build momentum and you get a rhythm at the running back position," Cooper continued. "It's one thing to stop a running back, but it is another thing to stop a proficient offense that is moving the ball on the ground."
East Carolina was proficient, and efficient. The Pirates punted the ball twice and had just one turnover - an interception by Carden, who was 32-for-47 passing for 376 yards and had three TD passes.
"The sky is the limit for our team," Cooper said. "We just have to keep working and making progress and understand that we can beat a lot of people if we execute on both sides of the ball."
And, if Cooper gets a little tired and beat up in the process, that's fine. As long as the wins come, especially one as big as Saturday's.
"It didn't take long at all (to appreciate the rivalry with UNC)," Cooper added. "I knew about it when I was in Georgia and I knew about it when I was in Mississippi. Now to be a part of it is a special thing."
Cooper was a part of it on Saturday - in a big way.