Twice As Nice (Back-to-Back C-USA Titles)
Nov. 14, 2013
By Malcolm Gray,
Known for having one of the toughest non-conference schedules in all of football, the Pirates came roaring out of the gates with a 3-0 record picking up wins over No. 17 Virginia Tech, No. 8 West Virginia and Tulane. And before they had time to blink, they were the talk of the college football world and ranked No. 14 in the nation.
The season opened in Charlotte, N.C. against the long-time rival Hokies at Bank of America Stadium. In front of 72,169 fans, the largest regular season college football attendance total in North Carolina history, the Pirate defense limited Virginia Tech to 243 total yards and picked up their second-straight win over a nationally-ranked team (closed 2007 season with a win over No. 24 Boise State in the Hawai'i Bowl, 41-38).
Trailing 22-13 with 3:36 to play, ECU quarterback Patrick Pinkney capped a nine-play, 73-yard drive with a three-yard scoring plunge to trim the deficit to two. The Pirate defense held the Hokies on their next possession, setting up a fourth-and-13 punting situation at the VT 37-yard line. Senior T.J. Lee broke through a block, knocked down the punt and scooped up the ball before rambling 27-yards for a touchdown in the 27-22 upset victory.
In what many built up to be one of the best early matchups during week two of the season, the Pirates played host 2008 Heisman Trophy hopeful Pat White and his No. 8 Mountaineers. But the Pirates smothering defense and a near flawless performance from Pinkey (22-for-26, 236 yards, 1 TD) helped ECU posted its first-ever win against a top-eight opponent and its third-straight over a nationally-ranked program.
Jonathan Williams complemented Pinkney's aerial accuracy with 69 yards rushing, which included a pair of short scoring runs. But the story of the game was the defense as they limited White to just 72 yards in the air, recorded four sacks and forced a pair of fumbles. Van Eskridge's forced fumble in the second quarter led to Pinkney's 13-yard strike to Alex Taylor with 47 seconds left until intermission giving ECU a 17-3 lead. Williams cashed in on a one-yard TD plunge with 6:05 on the clock in the third quarter for the final margin, 24-3.
After escaping with a 28-24 road win at Tulane in the Louisiana Superdome, the Pirates who were ranked 15th in the Associated Press poll traveled to in-state rival NC State where they dropped a heartbreaker in overtime 30-24 behind a determined 10-yard run by Andre Brown. It would be the first of three-straight set backs that evened the Pirates record at 3-3 with losses to Houston (41-24) and Virginia (35-20).
With the non-conference schedule completed, ECU got back to work in league play winning five of its last six games claiming the East Division title and setting up a showdown with Tulsa, the nation's top-rated offense. A swarming Pirate defense forced seven turnovers, five coming on interceptions, and Ben Hartman delivered a game-winning 36-yard field goal with 1:41 remaining to lift ECU to a 27-24 victory.
ECU cashed the first four Golden Hurricane miscues into 24 points and used the last three to halt drives inside Pirate territory, including a fifth pass theft that snuffed out Tulsa's final threat at the ECU 32-yard line with 63 ticks on the clock.
The defending C-USA champs opened the season with 29-24 win over Appalachian State, the top FCS school in the land, behind Dominique Lindsey's 105-yard rushing effort. ECU jumped out to an early 24-0 lead before the Mountaineers furious comeback bid fell short, 29-24.
Sitting at 1-2 on the young season, ECU reeled off four wins in its next five games pushing its record to 5-3 overall and 4-1 in C-USA action. The league season got underway at home against UCF where Dwayne Harris amassed 178 total yards and accounted for both of the Pirates' touchdowns in the 19-14 win. Harris matched a career-high with 10 receptions for a season-best 121 yards, three coming on a scoring toss from Patrick Pinkney midway through the fourth quarter. On the ground, his 25-yard TD jaunt early in the second period served as the go-ahead score, erasing an early 7-3 Knights' lead.
Following a 21-17 win at Marshall, the Pirates dropped their third game of the season at SMU, 28-21. But they rebounded with a pair of blowout wins against Rice (49-13) and Memphis (38-19) where the defense forced four turnovers (three interceptions) and registered 11 tackles for loss yardage.
The Pirates continued their stellar play winning three of its final four games to close out the regular season 8-4 and 7-1 in league play. After wins over Tulsa (44-17) and UAB (37-21), ECU claimed its second-straight divisional title with a dramatic 25-20 win over long-time rival Southern Miss. That victory gave ECU its first-ever 7-1 league mark and a matchup against Case Keenum and the high-octane Houston Cougars.
Van Eskridge's two fourth quarter interceptions, including a game-saver in the Pirate endzone with only 42 seconds remaining, helped ECU stave off a Houston comeback attempt and capture its second-straight C-USA Championship title, 38-32. The Pirates survived a 56-of-75, 527-yard, five touchdown passing effort by Keenum by picking off three throws, two in their own endzone.