View from the East
Thursday, September 26, 2013

By Al Myatt

Al Myatt

ECU hungry for a bite out of the upper crust


Another Florida QB plots a course to ECU


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By Al Myatt
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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,'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 Conference USA.

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 scholarships.

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 Pirates in a 44-43 ECU win over Southern Miss in 2010.

Fedora gave his take Wednesday on the emotion of in-state rivalries.

“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 play.”

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 evaluated.

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 disciplinary action.

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 of 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."

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09/26/2013 11:16 AM