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View from the East
Thursday, January 2, 2003

By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer

Thompson's Florida finale nets mixed results



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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 one end.

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 touchdown.

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 in 1987.

“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 Christmas break.

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’ season opener.

“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 Marquette.

“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.”

Holcomb-Faye’s status

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 issues.

“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.”

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02/23/2007 12:40:16 AM

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