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Game 2: ECU 24, West Virginia 3

 

Inside Game Day
Sunday, September 7, 2008

By Al Myatt

Pirates now the target

By Al Myatt
©2008 Bonesville.net
All rights reserved.

GREENVILLE — Sometime during the course of a nationally-televised 24-3 win over No. 8 West Virginia at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Saturday, the status of East Carolina's football program changed.

The Pirates went from being the hunter of nationally-ranked teams to the hunted.

The surprisingly-thorough domination of the Big East Conference's 2007 BCS representatives gave the Pirates their third straight triumph over a Top 25 team.

If there's any justice in the college football world, ECU will go into its Conference USA opener at Tulane this coming Saturday as a Top 25 team itself.

It would be hard to find a more stark contrast in atmospheres from ECU's home opener to the environment the Pirates will enter next week. ECU played before 43,610 fans on Saturday, including a healthy number of Mountaineer partisans. It was the largest home crowd in the Skip Holtz era and the fourth largest in school history.

The fans turned up the volume early on as they chanted "Purple" and "Gold" across the beautifully-manicured playing surface of Bagwell Field. About the only purple and gold next week — if the water level isn't too high to play at the Superdome — might be the randomly-painted seating pattern of the indoor facility.

ECU will have to bring its own emotion into that virtual vacuum and won't have the target of a nationally-ranked team on which to draw a bead. Now the Pirates will play king of the mountain from the top position rather than trying to take another program down.

It is a scenario in which Holtz has known he will have to succeed if the Pirates are to seize a conference championship for the first time since 1976 when ECU won the Southern Conference before embarking on a long journey as an independent that ended with C-USA football membership in 1997.

The Pirates have stumbled under those circumstances before — two years ago at Rice on the threshold of a C-USA East Division title and again last year at Marshall.

Holtz has said this year's team knows how to win. He said the challenge is handling winning.

The Pirate coach doesn't care about the polls at this point. ECU was high among the teams receiving votes last week but didn't crack the Top 25.

"I don't care," Holtz said. "I'm worried about (the polls) at the end. We've got to worry about Tulane. It's great to talk about. It's great for our fans. Some people were disappointed we didn't break the Top 25 last week.

"All we can do is play on the field. As soon as we start worrying about what's going on outside the lines — we start worrying about controlling the polls and where we're going to be ranked and who's getting the media attention — all those things outside the lines, we're taking our focus away from the pact we made together. We're going to focus on one game at a time.

"Hopefully with the schedule we play with Virginia Tech and West Virginia and N.C. State and Virginia, out of conference, along with this conference — if we will just take care of business and go one week at a time. Then let's let the chips fall where they may and let's see at the end of the year where we stand."

Regardless of what the future holds, ECU was a well-prepared and focused team on Saturday. Holtz used the horror movie that was a 48-7 Mountaineers win at Morgantown last year as a motivational tool during game week.

"We just turned it on and let the film speak for itself," said the ECU coach.

Patrick Pinkney, who completed 22 of 28 for 236 yards and a score in outplaying Heisman Trophy candidate Pat White of the Mountaineers, said the tape of the 2007 debacle in Morgantown served its designated purpose.

"It was a big motivation," Pinkney said. "They just outplayed us. They just beat us. We knew we had a challenge this week. We celebrated the win over Virginia Tech, but that was only 1-0. That doesn't complete our season. We knew we had to play because West Virginia wasn't going to lay down for us."

The Mountaineers didn't lay down but during the course of 60 minutes in the aftermath of Tropical storm Hanna, they were flattened. ECU scored on its first possession and never trailed. A WVU turnover late in the first half was converted into a touchdown and a 17-3 lead at the break.

Then the Pirates applied the gamebreaker with an 86-yard touchdown drive on their first possession of the second half. For all of its speed, talent and experience, the Mountaineers offense could not establish a rhythm on Saturday.

ECU became the first team to hold West Virginia without a touchdown since Miami did it in a 42-3 win in 2001. The Mountaineers were the highest ranked team ever to be beaten by the Pirates, eclipsing the feat of the 1999 team which topped No. 9 Miami 27-23 in Raleigh following the devastation of Hurricane Floyd.

The 1999 team had some impressive wins — also beating West Virginia, Duke and South Carolina in a 5-0 start. But the Pirates also lost that season at UAB, a valuable lesson in the midst of the frenzy ECU has generated two games into 2008.

Send an e-mail message to Al Myatt.

Dig into Al Myatt's Bonesville archives.

09/07/2008 04:02:47 AM
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