Junior Vintavious Cooper rushed for a career-high 151 yards.
Sept. 30, 2012
By Bill Woodward
GREENVILLE, N.C. - Junior college transfer Vintavious Cooper couldn't have picked a worse night to have his best game in an East Carolina uniform.
The rain came in torrents at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium and the game was halted for 80 minutes because of lightning. But Cooper darted and plowed his was to 203 all-purpose yards and kept the fans chanting "Coop, Coop" all night long in the Pirates' 28-18 victory over UTEP.
"It was real wet," Cooper said. "It was horrible. I took off my gloves because I would rather it be my hands than my gloves when it was in those kind of conditions."
Running back Reggie Bullock was knocked out of the game on the opening kickoff when he took a hard hit on a 13-yard return. Bullock was helped off the field and did not play the rest of the way with concussion-like symptoms.
Cooper became the workhorse for the Pirates, carrying the ball 23 times for a career-high 151 yards and making four catches for 52 yards.
He set up the Pirates' first touchdown when he shook loose from a would-be UTEP tackler and streaked 39 yards to the Miners' one-yard line.
"He had my leg someway," said Cooper, a 5-foot-9, 190-pound junior. "I got loose and I just jumped out of there. But they ran me down. I guess I'm not as fast as I look."
Cooper was plenty fast enough on Saturday. And plenty tough enough, breaking tackles time and time again to pick extra yardage outside and tough yards inside.
"Tay Cooper did a great job of running the ball for us," ECU coach Ruffin McNeill said. "The offense line played well against a good defense and Tay came up with 150-plus on the ground."
Cooper, an option quarterback at Southwest Mississippi Junior College, looked he had been a running back all his life against the Miners.
"It wasn't that big a transition to make," he said. "The biggest thing I had to work on was pass blocking. Running the ball wasn't really an issue, because I ran the ball a lot in junior college. It really isn't anything new."
Sitting through an 80-minute lightning delay in the second quarter was difficult on the whole team, Cooper said. But it was just part of the adversity on a water-logged evening.
"It was tough," he said. "You have to stop. You are already warmed up and then you get cold being in the building. It was a little adversity in that we had to stop and then resume play. But you try to fight through it and make plays at the same time.
"But it was an overall effort from everybody. Hats off to the line. They opened up lanes for us to make plays."
And Cooper kept making them all night. He got his first touchdown as a Pirate in the fourth quarter, breaking through the Miners' line on a 24-yard run.
"I was excited about it," he said. "I couldn't be any happier. We couldn't have picked a better night to win this game, especially since it was our second conference game.