As James Pinkney prepares to make his 38th
consecutive start at quarterback for East Carolina, football has started
to be fun again for the Pirates.
"It's felt like a dream season," said the senior from Delray Beach, FL,
who has become the ECU career leader in completions with 679.
Since starting 2-4, the Pirates have
won five out of six to improve to 7-5, assuring the program of its first
winning season since 2000. Pinkney's career high 391 passing yards in a
38-21 win over Southern Methodist
started ECU on its surge during the second half of the season.
"We had him on his back and they were
picture perfect throws," said Mustangs coach Phil Bennett after Pinkney
rebounded from a
subpar showing the previous week
field goal in the final seconds at Rice
kept ECU out of the Conference USA championship game.
"We've had a couple of games that could
have gone either way, a couple of games that we could have won," Pinkney
said. "But still, we're 7-5, we're in a bowl game and we're playing for
respect. It was a good season for us. We
beat N.C. State, one of our
Pinkney and the Pirates flew to
Birmingham on Tuesday for the Papajohns.com Bowl on Saturday at 1 p.m.
against South Florida (8-4), a program that has some experience in
dealing with Pinkney.
The Bulls recruited the ECU offensive
co-captain out of high school and
put a 41-17 pounding on the Pirates
at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa in 2004 — the last game before ECU
athletic director Terry Holland
pulled the plug on the John Thompson coaching era.
"They recruited me but they were also
recruiting three other quarterbacks at the time," said Pinkney, who
opted to join an ECU program that was habitually making bowl trips under
Steve Logan at the time of his decision.
Pinkney also had an offer from Iowa
State but he liked the big time atmosphere that surrounded ECU football
in years past. His arrival at ECU coincided with a downturn in football
fortunes that has been corrected in the last two years of Skip Holtz's
Pinkney hasn't forgotten the
frustration that the last loss to South Florida generated personally.
"It was a very good defense we were
facing," he said. "I missed a couple of balls that I should have hit.
After that coach (Noah) Brindise (then offensive coordinator), talked to
me about getting back focused and what not.
"It just wasn't our day. We didn't play
as a team."
The difference in the Pirates since
then is so pronounced that Bulls coach Jim Leavitt wouldn't even comment
on the last matchup when both teams were competing in Conference USA.
The Bulls have just completed their second season in the Big East.
"Don't even go there," Leavitt said
when asked about the game in 2004. "They just beat N.C. State and N.C.
State beat the dog out of us (in the Charlotte bowl) last season."
One difference for the Pirates from the
losses like the one to the Bulls earlier in Pinkney's career has been an
infusion of confidence inspired by Holtz.
"It's our confidence in the head coach,
that he and his staff are going to put us in a position to win," Pinkney
said. "They're going to do whatever it takes and it's up to us to do our
roles and do our jobs. They're doing a heckuva job here getting us
prepared for games."
Pinkney, of course, had to recover from
academic ineligibility at the outset of the Holtz regime as he missed
spring practice in 2005 after flunking out of school. But Pinkney has
come back — and so have the Pirates.
The low point on the field for Pinkney
personally was a
51-10 loss at Southern Miss his sophomore season
when he was sacked seven times. The high point in his college career, he
said, was going back to Hattiesburg this season and
topping the same Golden Eagles 20-17
in overtime. Pinkney's 2-yard keeper for a touchdown with 13 seconds
left in regulation tied the score.
The Pirates have beaten three teams
this year that they lost to in 2004 —
Memphis, Southern Miss and State.
The Bulls represent a fourth opportunity for payback.
Pinkney and the offense are backed by a
defensive unit that is playing significantly better than the Pirates two
In 2004, ECU yielded 456.8 yards per
game in total offense and an average of 39.9 points per game. Both
numbers were all-time highs for the program. This year ECU is allowing
332.9 in total yards and 20.5 points, which represents significant
improvement in terms of both figures.
"It's an outstanding defense," Leavitt
said of the Pirates. "They're very active. Their linebackers are very
And so is Pinkney, whose career totals
include 8,048 passing yards, 45 touchdowns passing, 399 net rushing
yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground.
"He is very good," said the Bulls
coach. "We recruited him out of high school. He's big, 6-3, 220. He
runs, throws, 60 percent completion rate. He knows what he's doing."
South Florida's loss was obviously
ECU's gain, particularly in the second half of Pinkney's final season in
Pirate purple and gold.