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Don't miss Al Myatt's profile of new ECU Chancellor Steven Ballard in the 2004 Bonesville Magazine.

View from the East
Tuesday, September 28, 2004

By Al Myatt

Progress comes in painful increments

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Bonesville Magazine

• PAT DYE: Short on Tenure, Long on Impact

• Recruit Profiles
• Rookie Books
• Tracking the Classes
• Florida Pipeline
• NCHSAA & ECU: Smooth Sailing Again


• STEVE BALLARD: 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 Nippert Stadium.

"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 Louisville.'

"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 keep rolling."

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 7-yard line.

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 times.

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 said.

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 attack.

"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 football.

"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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02/23/2007 12:46:32 AM

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