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Well, John Thompson lost his first game as East Carolina’s
new head football coach.
The good news for the Pirates was that he did it as
defensive coordinator for the Florida Gators.
Michigan won the Outback Bowl 38-30 in Tampa, Fla., on New
Year’s Day at Raymond James Stadium, which features that big Pirate ship at
There were plenty of “What ifs?” after the Gators finished
the season 8-5. Michigan’s first touchdown came after an errant Gators snap
that gave the Wolverines first-and-goal at Florida’s 3-yard line.
Then after Florida had taken a 13-7 lead, the Gators tried a
gimmick two-point conversion that was stopped short.
Take away those two plays alone and you have eight points in
an eight-point game.
The Gators also lost the turnover count, 3-0, which may have
been a familiar feeling for Pirates fans who spent mid-day on Wednesday as
vicarious Florida supporters. Turnovers were too often a negative factor for
the Pirates in a 4-8 season in 2002.
Then there was a trick play that went terribly wrong on the
Gators’ last possession — a double reverse, wide receiver pass by Vernell
Brown that shouldn’t have even been thrown under pressure and was
intercepted to seal the outcome.
But ECU fans were given an opportunity to see Thompson’s
style of defense. There was an assortment of blitz packages.
But even when a scheme puts players in position, they have
to execute. A Gators corner, Robert Cromartie, missed a shot at Michigan
quarterback John Navarre on a blitz. Navarre stepped up and hit tight end
Bennie Joppru for a lengthy gain that led to a Wolverines’ first half
Thompson got plenty of time on television on the Florida
sideline, which was the main objective from the standpoint of ECU athletics
director Mike Hamrick in allowing the new ECU coach to return and help
Florida in the bowl game. Hamrick reasoned that the potential exposure for
Thompson to high school players in the nationally-televised game would be
greater than if he was in the football office in Greenville during a dead
period in recruiting.
Bill Curry, who was working as an analyst for ESPN, had some
favorable comments about Thompson, who was his linebackers coach at Alabama
“John’s defense doesn’t want to show opponents where it’s
going to be,” Curry said. “They’re always moving around but they’re always
where they’re supposed to be when the ball is snapped.”
Florida’s defense dominated early in the game. Michigan had
just one first down in the first 18 minutes of the game.
“It’s like John’s in the Michigan playbook,” Curry said.
Florida finished with a 30-20 lead in first downs and more
total yardage, 480-420. The Gators defense also limited the Wolverines to 3
of 15 on third down conversions.
Some questionable play calls and some poor execution on
offense were big culprits in Florida’s loss.
Matt Graves to ECU?
Scott Cain, a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat, said that
Matt Graves, a graduate assistant for Arkansas, was saying good-byes after
the Razorbacks’ Music City Bowl loss to Minnesota because he was going to
East Carolina. Efforts to confirm that Graves will be coming to ECU and in
what capacity, if any for Coach Thompson, have been unsuccessful.
Next up, UNC Pembroke
When ECU men’s basketball Bill Herrion originally made out
the 2002-03 schedule, tonight’s 7 p.m. game with Division II UNC Pembroke
was designed to ease the Pirates back into the competitive frame after the
That was before the Marquette game was rescheduled from
March 5 to Dec. 30.
And what a great win over the Golden Eagles that turned out
to be. A record crowd of 8,081 in Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum saw ECU
top Marquette, No. 9 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll, 73-70.
Now the challenge for the Pirates is to avoid a letdown
against the Braves, who are 0-8. Matt Hubbard, a 5-foot-10 guard from
Kannapolis, is Pembroke’s leading scorer with a 12.0 average.
“We have to come out and play every night with the intensity
and energy that we had against Marquette,” said ECU coach Bill Herrion.
“These games are dangerous because this is the biggest game of their lives.
It’s kind of like their Super Bowl.”
ECU defeated Mount Olive, another Division II opponent, by a
90-62 score this season. Mount Olive defeated Pembroke 89-68 in the Braves’
“When we played Mount Olive, they were undersized but really
quick and I don’t think we adjusted to that early in the game,” Herrion
said. “From the opening tip, we need to play with energy and great
intensity. I want to see this team do it for 40 minutes.
“We’ve done it for most of the year. I don’t think we did it
against George Mason (66-56 loss without Travis Holcomb-Faye on Dec. 19) or
Coastal Carolina (90-71 road loss on Dec. 23) but we got it back against
“If we don’t do that, we’re just an O.K. basketball team. If
we do do that, we’ve got an opportunity to be pretty good.”
Senior point guard Travis Holcomb-Faye dressed out but
didn’t play in the Marquette game on Monday night. Herrion said Holcomb-Faye
would dress again tonight but the Pirates coach didn’t say if he would play
or not. Holcomb-Faye has missed the last four games because of academic
“It’s obviously my decision,” Herrion said of when
Holcomb-Faye returns to the court. “I feel he’s headed in the right
direction academically and he’s eventually going to play again.”
Holcomb-Faye is ECU’s career assist leader with 354 but his
classroom performance has disappointed ECU coaches and teammates.
“I’m extremely disappointed,” Herrion said. “He’s the only
senior on our basketball team, the guy with the most experience. It gets to
the point of learning to take care of business on and off the court. I’m
more disappointed for the kid. The hardest or toughest penalty you can give
an athlete or a player is to not let him play the games and he’s missed four
games his senior year.
“I think his teammates are disappointed. They feel he’s let
them down. He’s a good kid but there’s definitely disappointment that this
occurred, especially as a senior.”