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
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
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
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.