College Sports in the Carolinas
Don't miss Al Myatt's
profile of new ECU Chancellor Steven Ballard in the 2004
from the East
Tuesday, September 28, 2004
By Al Myatt
Progress comes in painful
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PAT DYE: Short on Tenure, Long on Impact
INSIDE PIRATE FOOTBALL
Tracking the Classes
NCHSAA & ECU: Smooth Sailing Again
HIGH HOPES FOR HOOPS
New Leader Takes Charge
SCOTT COWEN: Busting Down the Door
KEITH LECLAIR on ECU's Field of Dreams
BETH GRANT: Actress Still a Pirate
With one win in its last 16 games, the East Carolina football program needs
to take encouragement where it can find it.
The Pirates didn't beat Cincinnati in the Conference USA opener for both
clubs on Saturday night but a 24-19 loss to the Bearcats at Dowdy-Ficklen
Stadium was considerably more promising than last season's resounding 40-3
defeat to open the John Thompson coaching era on Labor Day of 2003 at
"I told our team before the game that I felt like this was going to be a
huge measuring stick for any kind of progress that we were trying to make,"
Thompson said in his postgame news conference. "I saw it during the game and
I told our team after the game that when you measure where we were when we
played Cincinnati a year ago ... I'm very proud of our team."
Defensive end Richard Koonce recalled last year's debacle with the Bearcats.
"We got our butts smashed last year," Koonce said. "We've progressed as far
as that's concerned. We played a whole lot better than we did last year."
ECU senior Charlie Dempsey moved from left guard to center after Hunter Wood
aggravated a hand injury. Swelling made Wood unable to grip the ball
properly for snaps. A year ago, Dempsey was part of a unit that managed just
eight first downs against the Bearcats. ECU had nine first downs before the
2004 hall of fame inductees were honored at halftime on Saturday night.
"Honestly, we were kind of shocked (last year)," Dempsey said. "We came out
and we kind of played dead. It was the first game of the season a new
offense and a new coach and we really didn't play to our potential.
"We wanted to come out this year and prove we're not that same team."
Cincinnati has won three straight over the Pirates, a program ECU used to
routinely dispatch in establishing a 12-2 lead in the series. The Bearcats
have trimmed the series lead to 12-5 but Saturday night was the closest game
of the last three.
A New Orleans Bowl-bound Cincy won 42-26 in Steve Logan's final game as ECU
coach in 2002.
In Saturday night's episode of the series with the Bearcats, ECU allowed the
opponent a season low (24) point total. Although that was an improvement, no
one in the Pirates program is getting jolly about moral victories. Thompson
described a locker room that was reeling emotionally after Cincinnati's
clock-consuming drive to close the contest denied ECU's offense a shot to
stop a 9-game home losing streak.
Still, the measuring stick showed progress.
"When we played these guys a year ago, it was like we were shocked,"
Thompson said. "We didn't know what we were going to do. It was like, 'Oh my
goodness, what do we do next?' Now the first thing I told them was, 'Let's
go to work and let's beat Louisville. Let's do everything we can to beat
"That's where I am right now. I'm not going to dwell on this thing. You move
on. The hurt stays with you. You never get over 'em. That doesn't happen.
You get over wins; you don't get over losses, but I'm going to move on to
Louisville right now."
The Cardinals, ranked No. 24 by the Associated Press and No. 22 by the
coaches last week, rolled past North Carolina 34-0 in Chapel Hill on
Saturday to improve to 3-0. The upcoming C-USA contest at Papa John's
Stadium has a 3 p.m. kickoff and will be shown on WITN-TV 7.
"We've got a lot of gas left in our tank," Thompson said. "We're going to
Officials got it right
ECU appeared to have gotten a tough break when penalized five yards for
running into the punter in the third quarter. Some thought Pirate punt
rusher Tommie Bradley had deflected the boot of Bearcats punter Brian Steel.
Had the play stood, ECU was looking at first-and-goal at the Cincinnati
Coach Thompson said the C-USA crew told him that Steel had re-established
his status as a punter after moving to retrieve a wayward snap. That meant
he was afforded protection unless Bradley got his hands on the ball.
Brian North of Channel 12 sports said he looked at his tape of the play in
slow motion and Bradley did not block the punt.
"The punter shanked it badly," North said. "Hard to believe, but they made
the right call."
It took several minutes for the C-USA zebras to sort out a fumble into the
end zone recovered by the Bearcats on their final drive. Cincinnati was
awarded possession at the spot the ball was fumbled because the offense
can't recover a fourth down fumble in the end zone for a touchdown. The ball
carrier had the necessary yardage for a first down when he lost possession
so the Bearcats were awarded first-and-goal at the ECU 1-yard line, where
they ran out the clock.
To their credit, the Conference USA officials apparently got it right both
Defense has better numbers
After allowing an average of 359 yards rushing in an 0-2 start, the Pirates
limited Cincinnati to 217 yards on 57 carries. The Bearcats ran for 361
yards on 56 carries against ECU last season.
"We had some three and outs for the first time in a long time," Thompson
Although ECU was better against the run, the sack yardage piled up by the
Bearcats meant the Pirates managed just 11 yards net for their own ground
"We have some things that we've got to do a lot of work on, but for a change
the shoe was on the other foot a little bit, but that's football," Thompson
said. "They've got a very good team, a very talented defense."
Thompson was especially impressed with Bearcats defensive end Trent Cole,
who had three sacks among his seven tackles. ECU had not allowed a sack in
its first two games.
Cole is a senior who Thompson expects to see in the NFL next season.
"I'll be glad to watch him next year do the same thing he did to us today,"
Thompson said. "We didn't block him. ... He changed the game. ... We've got
to get people like that."
The Bearcats started 17 seniors.
"We've got to get where we have all those seniors," said the ECU coach.
Bearcats kill the clock
One of Cincinnati's veterans is senior quarterback Gino Guidugli, who
completed 14 of 25 for 155 yards with two touchdowns and a pick.
"Guidugli did what he had to do to win the ball game," Thompson said.
Guidugli directed a decisive clock-killing, game-closing drive. By that
time, the Bearcats' proclivity for a straight-ahead ground game made sense.
They appeared to have worn the younger, depth-shy Pirates down at that point
in the game.
"That was like a slow death," Thompson said of the defense's inability to
get a late stop. " ... The game changer as much as anything was the last
drive. They keep the ball and we don't get it back. Time ran out on us. If
time had kept ticking and we got the ball back, I think we would have won
the ball game.
"To me it came down to the last drive simply because it was the last drive."
Holland working for ECU at UVa
Incoming ECU athletic director Terry Holland talked with Syracuse AD Jake
Crouthamel on Friday and Saturday as Virginia hosted the Orangemen in
"I need to spend some time with Jake," Holland said Friday. "He could be
very important to us in the future for lots of different reasons."
The main reason Holland wanted to cultivate his relationship with Crouthamel
is to enhance consideration of ECU for future Big East inclusion, which was
one of the primary factors as the Pirates waded through a pool of AD
candidates during a year-plus search.
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