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College Sports in the Carolinas

View from the East
Thursday, October 24, 2002

By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer

Pirates' fortunes up for grabs on road swing



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East Carolina’s goal of a Conference USA football championship remains intact going into three league games on the road, starting at Louisville on Saturday.

It will have been 33 days between home games — more than a month — when the Pirates return to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium to face Texas Christian on Nov. 23.

A lot may happen in the meantime.

The Pirates visit Houston on Nov. 9 after their third open date of the season, this one created by the shifting of the Cincinnati game, originally scheduled for Nov. 2, to Friday night, Dec. 6 for ESPN 2.

Then there’s a trip to Birmingham to play UAB on Nov. 16. The Pirates will try to become the first ECU football team to win a game in Alabama, where ECU is 0-7 over the years. By then, ECU’s status as a contender or also-ran in C-USA should be well defined.

“We know that if we can come back here with a 3-0 mark on that stretch I’m sure our fans will be happy,” said ECU quarterback Paul Troth.

The Pirates (2-4, 2-0 C-USA) will be looking for their first road win of the season at Papa John’s Stadium at 2 p.m. this Saturday. The most recognizable performer for Louisville is senior quarterback Dave Ragone, who has been the C-USA offensive player of the year the last two seasons.

“He’s a hard guy to get on the ground,” said Pirates coach Steve Logan. Ragone is 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds and, like ex-ECU quarterback David Garrard, can create excitement and yardage with his bullish scrambles.

Ragone states his running philosophy in simple terms.

“If I wanted to slide I would have played baseball,” he said.

Ragone will be a test for the Pirates’ defense but Troth doesn’t consider the game a personal matchup with the Louisville left-hander.

“Saturday, I was excited to go up against (Marquel) Blackwell because he’s probably one of the best senior quarterbacks in the nation,” Troth said. “With his running ability and his accurate passing, I felt that in comparison I compared very well, but the only thing that I looked at was the win. He won the game so in that aspect, I lost.”

Troth threw for 339 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions against South Florida while Blackwell had 321 yards, five touchdowns and no picks. Troth completed 25 of 46 for 54.3 percent while Blackwell completed 19 of 33 for 57.6 percent.

Except for crucial turnovers which led to two Bulls touchdowns, Troth compared favorably. But the 20-year old Troth will try not to think in terms of an individual matchup with the 23-year old Ragone.

“I don’t ever go into it looking at it as quarterback versus quarterback,” Troth said. “... I think what I did this weekend that helped me out was that I didn’t focus on me versus Blackwell. I just focused on running the play that Coach (Doug) Martin (offensive coordinator) called and just executing and I felt that I did that.

“So if I can do that this week, maybe we’ll have another great shootout as we always have with Louisville.”

Troth’s sense of ECU football history is right on target there. The Cards and Pirates have met four times in C-USA and although ECU is averaging 38.0 points in those games, the Pirates are just 2-2 in league play against Louisville. The Cards are averaging 39.5 points in C-USA games with ECU, including a 63-45 win in Greenville in 1998.

Turnovers have plagued the Cardinals as well as the Pirates this season. Louisville is a minus-8 on turnovers for the year while ECU is a minus-11. Ragone has thrown 12 touchdowns and he’s been picked off six times. The Cardinals’ slinger is completing 54.5 percent of his attempts for an average of 236.1 yards per game. Essentially, the Cards have had to rely on Ragone because their rushing offense is last in C-USA at 102.4 yards per game.

Defensively, Louisville is second in the league in total defense, allowing opponents 312.6 yards per game. The Cards are fourth in C-USA is scoring defense, yielding an average of 24.6 points per game. Defensive end Dewayne White was the C-USA defensive player of the year in 2001 as Louisville won its second straight league title.

“They have very good defense and we just played a very good defense from South Florida and we put up some pretty good numbers against them,” said Pirates receiver Richard Hourigan. “I feel like we’re going to do the same against Louisville. We’re not intimidated at all. We’re looking forward to the game. We, the receivers as a unit, don’t feel like there’s anybody who can stop us as a unit if we go out there and execute.”

Louisville is coming off a somewhat surprising 45-31 loss at home to TCU. That outcome dropped the Cards to 2-1 in league play and makes this a must-win game against ECU in terms of Louisville’s bid for a third straight league title.

“We’ve found out over the years that you can still contend with one loss in the league but two losses and you’re more or less out,” Logan said earlier this season.

Defensive tackle Ja’Waren Blair is part of a Pirates defensive front which needs to contain and pressure Ragone. Blair and the Pirates would like to preserve that zero in the league losses column.

“That’s a conference game and we have not lost in the conference yet, like Southern Miss,” Blair said. “Every other team in the league has a conference loss. If we can beat Louisville we can get this train rolling. We’re ready to explode. We just have to do it.

“The 2-4 record. I know our fans do not like it. I don’t like it. It hurts me but I’m not going to bail on my teammates. And I don’t think our fans will bail on their team.”

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02/23/2007 12:59:22 AM

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