Ben Hartman's mechanics were a problem for
much of Saturday night but there was nothing wrong with his sense of
East Carolina's blond
sophomore kicker from Winston-Salem had missed virtual chip shots from
30, 32 and 37 yards before nailing his final chance from 39 yards as
time expired for a 34-31 win over regional rival North Carolina.
Most of those among the 43,387 fans who
had alternately yelled "Purple" and "Gold" across Bagwell Field on
Saturday night simply stood and watched in appreciation as the Pirate
players celebrated deliriously.
There was a high degree of relief among
the Pirate faithful that Hartman had finally connected.
"Ben is a really good kicker," said
Pirates coach Skip Holtz. "I mean the guy just missed three of them but
he's really done a nice job. He competed his tail off a year ago with
Robert Lee and won a couple of those battles."
Hartman had the kicking job last season
for a 20-17 overtime win at Southern Miss. He hit a career longest
47-yarder in the first quarter against the Golden Eagles and was true
with a 19-yarder that provided the margin of victory in overtime.
Holtz and the Pirate players tried to
boost Hartman's spirits during his struggles against the Tar Heels.
When the Tar Heels mishandled the snap
on a 52-yard field goal attempt with 55 seconds left, Hartman said he
knew he was going to get a chance to redeem himself.
"When I saw the bobbled snap I knew it
was going to come down to me," Hartman said. "I just said 'Forget the
other three. Make this one count.' "
Patrick Pinkney quickly drove the
Pirates into position for a game-winning boot, taking a knee in the
middle of the field at UNC-Chapel Hill's 23-yard line to give Hartman a
straight-on shot at one of the biggest wins in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium
ECU called timeout with two seconds
left to bring on the kicking unit, which includes long snapper Wilson
Raynor and holder Joseph Sloan.
"I called timeout and I told him a joke
to get him to laugh a little bit," Holtz said.
Actually, it was a riddle.
"It's so bad I don't know if I should
tell it," Holtz said in his postgame news conference. "I don't know if
he laughed because he thought it was funny or because it was so bad. It
was one my son told me. 'Why did the coach go to the bank? ... To get
his quarter back.' "
The Tar Heels called time after the
Pirates to try and freeze Hartman, who played at North Davidson High.
"(Coach Holtz) comes over and he says,
'Now you've got to tell me a joke,' " Hartman said. "I went ahead and
gave it to him."
Hartman didn't want to share his joke.
"It ain't that bad, but nah," he said.
Holtz had time for some last-second
counseling after Hartman's attempt at humor.
"He`said don't let anything between
your ears bother you," Hartman said. "I felt terrible actually. You've
got your guys D-linemen, O-linemen the offense is moving the ball
and you can't capitalize on it. That's nine points. That could have been
the difference in the game easily.
"All my teammates supported me. They
told me to keep my head up and follow through."
Left guard Matt Butler said he was
praying as he provided protection on the final kick.
"I had to focus on my blocking but I
looked up in time to see it going through," Butler said.
Hartman said the field goal unit
performed well in terms of operations throughout the game.
"It was all me," Hartman said. "The
whole operation was fine. Wilson Raynor did a good job snapping. Joe
Sloan did his job holding it. The line blocked. Everything went right.
It was me on all three."
The first of Hartman's three fourth
quarter tries hit the left upright and caromed away for a Tar Heel
touchback. His third miss with 3:03 left to play from 37 yards was wide
But when the Tar Heels had their own
operational problems on their last kick, the door soon swung open for
Hartman to step up front and center in a hero's role.
"I said, 'Just relax like it's your
first kick of the night,' " Holtz said. " 'Don't let those last ones
beat us. Just go out and do what you do.' "
Hartman and ECU avoided overtime with
the game-ending opportunity.
"You've got to block out everything
that's gone bad on you," Hartman said. "It's almost like you could
relate it to someone's life who's had everything go wrong, go wrong, go
wrong. Finally, they said 'Stop. It's going to be good from here on
A wave of good feeling swept over the
Pirate fans as Hartman kicked ECU to victory.
Hartman, who may never have to buy
another meal in Greenville, couldn't describe the emotion.
"It hasn't sunk in yet," he told a
semi-circle of reporters following the game.
Holtz tried to sum up the dramatic
"What a game, what a game, one heck of
a game," said the Pirates coach.