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CHRONICLING ECU & C-USA SPORTS
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View from the 'ville
Thursday, November 2, 2006

By Al Myatt

Pinkney, Pirates on path to redemption

©2006 Bonesville.net
All rights reserved.

James Pinkney has overcome personal adversity and never wavered in his efforts to lead East Carolina back to the prominence the program held at the turn of the millennium.

Pinkney signed with ECU as part of the February, 2002, signing class, boarding the Pirate ship following its third consecutive bowl trip.

Pinkney expected to be a part of continuing that kind of tradition. But after a 4-8 season in 2002 and the subsequent dismissal of Steve Logan, the coach that recruited him out of Delray Beach, FL, the Pirates went 3-20 in two seasons under John Thompson's leadership.

Pinkney flunked out of school after the 2004 season and missed the first spring practice under new coach Skip Holtz in 2005. He re-dedicated himself academically while bussing tables at a Greenville restaurant during his semester exile from the program.

Pinkney was instrumental in helping ECU to a 5-6 record in ECU's first season under Holtz in 2005. Although progress was evident, Pinkney was disappointed in terms of the previous level of success when he picked ECU over offers that included Iowa State.

Despite his personal trials and the program's period of decline, Pinkney is in position to finish his college career with his pride restored. A landmark East Carolina win in the hostile atmosphere at Southern Miss last Saturday night potentially opened a lot of doors for the 2006 Pirates.

Pinkney has waited and worked to fulfill his wants for ECU. Now his efforts and those of his teammates may finally pay off.

"The season didn't start out like we wanted it to but we still have a chance to win out on our side and contend for a conference championship," Pinkney said.

We're talking rags to riches on multiple levels here. The Pirates were picked sixth — and last — in the East Division in the Conference USA preseason coaches poll.

With the exception of offensive coordinator Steve Shankweiler and running backs coach Junior Smith, no one in the East Carolina football program had ever experienced a win over Southern Miss.

The Golden Eagles had beaten the Pirates 33-7 last year in Greenville and walloped ECU 51-10 in 2004 at M.M. Roberts Stadium in Hattiesburg.

The average margin of victory for Southern Miss since ECU had taken its last win in the series in 2000 by a 14-9 score was more than 21 points.

The Pirates had made a habit of wilting in the face of USM's aggressive defensive pressure. Pinkney was sacked seven times in 2004. ECU had five turnovers against the Golden Eagles in 2005.

The Pirates knew where they stood in the recent history of the matchup — and it wasn't good as ECU returned to the scene of that 41-point loss two years ago.

"They basically embarrassed us down there last time," Pinkney said. "It felt like we had something to prove going down there."

Pinkney's 2-yard scoring keeper with 13 seconds left in regulation atoned for an interception return by the Golden Eagles that had provided a 17-10 lead.

"It was a run-throw option and they had doubled on the receivers," Pinkney said of his tying touchdown. "So it was on me to find a gap and hit it and get into the end zone."

The Pirates then took a lead in overtime on a 19-yard field goal by Ben Hartman.

There was substantial emotion on the ECU sideline when Travis Williams intercepted on the first offensive play by the Golden Eagles in overtime.

"It was unbelievable, something I've never been a part of — coming back like that and beating one of the top teams in our conference that we had wanted to beat for a long time," Pinkney said. "It was very emotional for all of us and something we're very proud of."

ECU players had to wait for the verdict to become official pending a videotape review of the play on which Southern Miss tight end Shawn Nelson attempted to wrestle the ball away from Williams.

"We had to wait, but we had confidence that he had the pick," Pinkney said. "We just needed to get it confirmed and that's what happened."

ECU's 20-17 overtime win not only interrupted Southern Miss' domination of the series, it meant that a winning season, a Conference USA championship and a bowl berth were still realistic objectives for the Pirates with two-thirds of the 2006 regular season in the books.

ECU is 4-4 overall, two wins away from bowl eligibility. The Pirates are 3-2 in the league, half-game leaders in the East Division over Southern Miss and Marshall, who are each 2-2 in C-USA. ECU has a head-to-head tiebreaker edge over the Golden Eagles and control its own fate regarding Marshall with a home game against the Thundering Herd on Nov. 11.

Southern Methodist gave the Pirates a helping hand by beating UAB 22-9 on Tuesday night and knocking the Blazers to 2-3 in league play. UAB would have a tiebreaker advantage over ECU by virtue of a 17-12 win over the Pirates on Sept. 9.

The 2006 schedule, which once appeared so imposing, now seems to favor the Pirates going down the stretch.

The combined overall record of the three C-USA teams remaining on ECU's schedule — Central Florida, Marshall and Rice — is 8-16. The Pirates visit preseason East Division favorite and defending division champion UCF on Saturday.

ECU has hopped into the driver's seat in C-USA East, but that in itself is a basis for caution in a parity-steeped league. The Pirates are bidding to follow UCF's feat of being picked last in the division and winning its side of the league race.

"That's how Conference USA is," Pinkney said. "You never know what's going to happen."

The Golden Knights' run last season was boosted by a 30-20 win in Greenville in which the Pirates piled up 542 yards of total offense but were undone by six turnovers. Pinkney completed 24 of 46 in that game but was intercepted three times.

"They're physical and they fly around," said Pinkney of UCF's defensive style. "We've got to match their hunger and intensity."

Pinkney will have family and friends on hand, some of which haven't seen him play since high school. Coincidently, the Pirates may be approaching a degree of achievement that the program has been lacking since Pinkney's prep days.

"We know that if we play our best and play together, we can hang with anybody and give anybody a game," he said.

Send an e-mail message to Al Myatt.

Dig into Al Myatt's Bonesville archives.

02/23/2007 12:30:52 AM
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