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College Sports in the Carolinas


View from the East
Monday, September 29, 2003

By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer

Faces changed but stakes remain the same


More than 1,200 miles separate Houston and East Carolina but there was very little separating the two football teams competitively when they met last season at John O’Quinn Field at Robertson Stadium in Houston.

In the lengthiest football game the Pirates have ever been involved in, ECU won 54-48 in triple overtime. Both programs have been through extensive changes since that Nov. 9, 2002 matchup, witnessed by a crowd announced at 13,669.

More watched in Eastern North Carolina on WITN-7, but when the two Conference USA combatants meet again at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on ESPN2, many of those who played significant roles in that memorable marathon will no longer be involved to the same, if any, extent.

Steve Logan, who watched from his customary crouch at one end of the ECU sideline, was relieved of his duties as head coach at ECU after 11 seasons when the Pirates finished 4-8 in 2002.

Logan’s counterpart, Dana Dimel, was also jettisoned at the end of a 5-7 season at Houston in 2002. Dimel's dismissal irked Logan, for whom Dimel played at Hutchinson Junior College in Kansas, in light of the improvement the Cougars made from an 0-11 record in 2001, a season in which ECU and Houston did not meet.

Of course, John Thompson — some might say the anti-Logan as an always engaging and perpetually defensive-minded coach — got the ECU job.

Art Briles, who spent 21 highly-successful seasons on the high school level in Texas, became the new Cougars boss. He was a wide receiver at Houston under legendary former Cougars coach Bill Yeoman, playing on the 1976 team that won the old Southwest Conference championship in Houston’s first year in the league.

Last year, the Cougars featured the running of Joffrey Reynolds, who amassed an even 300 yards on the ground against ECU to establish a C-USA and school record. ECU fans can be glad that 2002 was Reynolds’ senior season. Houston is playing a true freshman at quarterback.

Art Brown was ECU’s leading rusher on that windy afternoon in Houston, gaining 132 yards on 27 carries including a 25-yard run in the third overtime for the margin of victory and his fourth touchdown of the game. Brown, of course, is sitting out this season with a right knee injury.

Paul Troth had one of his better days at quarterback for ECU against the Cougars. He completed 25 of 37 for 369 yards with three TDs and one interception. Troth is seeing limited action now behind Desmond Robinson, his back-up a year ago.

In all, just four players who started on defense last year for the Pirates at Houston are still in the ECU program. Receiver Terrance Copper is the lone skill position player who is likely to start for the second straight season against the Cougars. ECU’s offensive line is back intact.

Kicker Kevin Miller, who missed a field goal in a stiff breeze that would have put last season's game away earlier for the Pirates, is gone. So is punter Jarad Preston, who averaged 47 yards on five punts at Houston.

There will be a few recurring matchups such as Houston center Rex Hadnot and ECU defensive linemen Damane Duckett, who may line up some at noseguard. But generally, the carryover emotion factor from returning players and coaches is like Miller’s 32-yard field goal try with five seconds left in regulation last season — gone with the wind.

That’s not to say both teams won’t have ample motivation.

As Thompson puts it, Houston has had a taste of success. The Cougars got a dose of reality with a 50-3 loss at Michigan but have beaten Rice (48-14), Louisiana-Lafayette (21-14) and Mississippi State (42-35).

The Pirates are hungry.

“We just need to get in the win column,” Copper said.

Lone star coach

Briles played on the 1977 Cotton Bowl team at Houston that beat Maryland, 30-21.

For the last four years, Briles was running backs coach at Texas Tech, a program the Pirates rolled past 40-27 in the 2000 Bowl at the Astrodome.

The Cougars are off to a 3-1 start after outscoring Mississippi State 42-35 in their last game, demonstrating that former Texas Tech quarterback Kliff Kingsbury was right on target when he commented about the program’s potential after its change in leadership.

“He’ll breathe life into the program,” Kingsbury said of Briles. “He knows the game of football and knows high school football in this state, and, more importantly, he’s a players’ coach. The fans will enjoy his brand of football.”

Briles speaks humbly with a pronounced Texas drawl. His son, Kendal, is a quarterback who transferred from Texas and will sit out this season. He’ll be eligible next season. Two quarterbacks transferred out of the program and, right now, the Cougars are playing Kevin Kolb, a true freshman, at quarterback.

Kolb came from the Stephenville (Texas) High School program where Briles won four state championships, although Briles had already gone to Texas Tech when Kolb played there. Kolb isn’t playing like a first-year college player. He completed 20 of 29 last week against Mississippi State for 321 yards and four touchdowns.

Kolb is the first true freshman to start at quarterback in Houston’s 58 years of football. All players start over to a degree with a new coach, so Briles’ arrival makes Kolb’s college inexperience less of a factor.

This will be Houston’s first C-USA game of 2003. ECU has shown significant improvement since opening its season with a 40-3 league loss at Cincinnati. The Cougars will be trying to maintain the momentum from their win over an SEC opponent over the course of a 9-day layoff. The Pirates can hope their own improvement curve continues with sufficient impetus to get them over the hump.

Latest expansion theory

With the ACC’s statement on Saturday that it would only consider an all-sports candidate for potential membership, it makes it highly unlikely that Notre Dame would become the ACC’s 12th team in the near future. The ACC may take another look at Boston College, which could open up a spot in the Big East for the Pirates.

The desirability of a spot in the Big East for ECU is contingent on the bowl championship series surviving in something similar to its present state beyond its contractual limits in 2005, and that the Big East would retain an automatic BCS berth for its champion despite the loss of national powers Miami and Virginia Tech.


Here’s how the Division I-A teams stack up in the Carolinas:


How the teams in the Carolinas stack up through games of Sunday, Sept. 28:

  1. N.C. State (3-2, 1-1 ACC) ... Philip Rivers looked like a Heisman candidate in win over UNC.
  2. South Carolina (3-2, 0-2 SEC) ... Gamecocks fall in overtime at Tennessee.
  3. Clemson (3-1, 1-0 ACC) ... Tigers had an open date before a trip to Maryland.
  4. Wake Forest (3-2, 1-1 ACC) ... Deacons had chances but lose squeaker at Virginia.
  5. Duke (2-3, 0-2 ACC) ... Blue Devils fall 56-7 to a very-impressive Florida State edition.
  6. North Carolina (0-4, 0-2 ACC) ... Tar Heels quarterback Darian Durant obviously can’t do it all.
  7. East Carolina (0-4, 0-1 C-USA) ... Houston represents a chance to get out of the State Line basement.

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02/23/2007 12:41:43 AM

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