All rights reserved.
View the Mobile Alpha version of this page.
East Carolina makes little pretense about being anything
but a football school in its athletic history. North Carolina, on the
other hand, is perceived as a basketball school.
So why does the basketball school own an 11-2-1 lead in
the series that resumes Saturday at 12:30 p.m. in Chapel Hill? (That
series record excludes
a North Carolina win in 2009
when the Tar Heels had to own up to the NCAA for improper benefits to
players and academic fraud).
One difference is talent.
Since Ruffin McNeill became coach at ECU in 2010, North
Carolina has had 18 NFL draft choices. The Pirates have had four.
In another measure of talent, Rivals.com's ratings of the
2013 football recruiting classes, the Tar Heels were 42nd. The Pirates
were ranked 92nd among the 123 Football Bowl Subdivision programs.
Another difference in the two programs is resources.
ECU's football identity has progressed from a small
college program to major college independent to one that will transition
to the American Athletic Conference after this final 2013 season in
The move to the AAC represents an upgrade in revenue for
the Pirates but it doesn't approach what North Carolina will realize in
terms of the ACC's restructured deal with ESPN which will generate $17.1
million annually for league members.
The Tar Heels could afford to pay a stipend to athletes.
The ECU Educational Foundation (Pirate Club) is still trying to complete
funding for a new basketball practice facility and fully fund athletic
North Carolina coach Larry Fedora pulls down $2,448,605
annually. McNeill received a raise to $950,000 after the 2012 season.
Despite the disparities, the Pirates have always relished
the opportunity to compete with the so-called flagship program in the
UNC system. While ECU has been stifled at times in its development as an
institution by the Chapel Hill power structure, the football field has
represented a chance for the Pirates to compete as equals.
That's what makes this matchup meaningful to many.
Although ECU is not on the same level in some areas, the
Pirates have an underdog's motivation to prove themselves.
The two ECU wins, in 1975 and 2007, have taken their
place in Pirate lore.
ECU was inspired to honor the memory of former coach
Clarence Stasavich, who had passed away just before the Pirates took a
38-17 win at Kenan Stadium in 1975.
The 34-31 win in 2007 came on a
game-ending field goal by Ben Hartman, who had missed several previous
attempts. Then-Pirate coach Skip Holtz made Hartman share jokes during a
timeout before the deciding boot.
Fedora came up on the short end against McNeill and the
a 44-43 ECU win over Southern Miss in 2010.
Fedora gave his take Wednesday on the emotion of in-state
“When you play an in-state team, you’ve got guys on your
team that played with guys on their team or played against guys on their
team in high school and so they have relationships," said Fedora.
"Anytime you have that scenario, it’s going to be a little bit more
intense. You’re going to have guys that have history with each other.
"Then you’ve got the fans. You’ve got fans on the eastern
side of the state that are obviously East Carolina fans, and they’re
sprinkled around, so there’s a lot of bragging rights that come to
The Pirates have the advantage of extra time to prepare
as they come off an open date following
a frustrating 15-10 loss to Virginia Tech
in Greenville on Sept. 14.
While the ECU players had last Friday and Saturday off,
North Carolina took a 28-20 loss in Atlanta to Georgia Tech and the
Yellow Jackets' physically-challenging option offense.
Pirate linebacker Kyle Tudor and cornerback Josh Hawkins
got some reps in practice Tuesday and their status will continue to be
Linebacker Jeremy Grove (chest) and noseguard Terry
Williams (suspension) are out.
Junior Chrishon Rose and true freshman Demetri McGill are
expected to step up on the defensive interior.
"No hiccups," said McNeill of the consequences of the
Linebackers Brandon Williams and Zeek Bigger certainly
responded in the absence of Grove and Tudor against the Hokies.
ECU's offense was constricted by Virginia Tech's pass
rush and secondary coverage. The Pirates offense was not able to
establish any consistency after an early scoring drive. Hopefully, ECU
offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley has figured out some answers there
and his unit has done the download.
In three meetings with the Tar Heels during the Ruff era,
adjustments have been deciding factors twice. North Carolina went to its
running game in pulling away from a 14-14 tie at the half to take
a 42-17 win over the visiting
Pirates in 2010.
The passing game provided the cushion in the second half
a 27-6 North Carolina win
last year after the Heels held a scant 10-6 advantage at the half. Four
first-half turnovers by ECU were decisive as the Heels built a 28-3
halftime lead in 2011 en route to
a 35-20 win.
The Pirate defense obviously will have to do a better job
against North Carolina senior quarterback Bryn Renner than it did
against Logan Thomas of the Hokies. McNeill said covering talented tight
end Eric Ebron will be a priority. ECU's rush defense was a highlight
against Virginia Tech, allowing less than two yards per carry.
As a player for the Pirates, McNeill had two losses to
the Tar Heels by a total of six points along with a 24-24 tie in 1979.
He's 0-3 against them as ECU's coach.
Still, the experience has given Ruff an understanding of
what it takes to compete against the odds and the Heels.
"Each year we've gotten better, talent-wise," he said.
"That's a key. The game is going to be emotional. Our kids will be
excited. They're looking to bounce back. We are, too, off of a tough
loss. Execution will be key on all three sides of the ball. Blocking and
tackling, the basics."
"Let's have fun," said the Pirates coach. "Let's turn it
loose and have fun. Get after 'em and do your job. Let's go attack it."