GREENVILLE East Carolina was at a
crossroads on Saturday afternoon at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. The Pirates
needed a win to stay above .500 overall and remain in contention for the
Conference USA East Division championship.
The Pirates were able to move forward with
a 30-10 win over Memphis by taking a step back to the two-quarterback
system that proved effective in 2007.
After jumping out to a 3-0 start in
2008 and a No. 14 national ranking, the Pirates had lost three straight.
A turnaround was badly needed. There was significantly more concrete
exposed in the stands as wet weather and ECU's demise in recent weeks
took its toll on the attendance, which was announced at 41,216.
About the only thing on target in the
early going was the Army parachute team that landed on the playing
surface before kickoff. Pirate quarterbacks Patrick Pinkney and Rob Kass
combined to go just 5 for 12 passing for a scant 42 yards in the first
That didn't compare favorably to a 7
for 9 effort for 63 yards by third-string Memphis quarterback Brett
Toney, who was pressed into action due to injuries and whose previous
experience on offense consisted primarily of holding on placekicks.
The only thing offensively for the
Pirates that brought the subdued gathering to life in the first half was
a 68-yard scoring run by Jonathan Williams that tied the score at 7 with
6:20 left in the first half. Memphis' first score had come as the result
of a muffed punt return by ECU's J.J. Milbrook that led to a 7-yard
scoring possession by the Tigers.
The Tigers drove 58 yards late in the
first half to take a 10-7 lead on a 20-yard field goal by Vinny Zaccario,
who had missed badly earlier from 40 yards.
But with ECU badly in need of
direction, Kass stepped up to show the way in the second half.
"The guys said at halftime, 'We're in
this game and we're going to come back and win,' " said Kass, who was 7
for 12 for 159 yards with two touchdowns in the second half.
His 42-yard pass to Brandon Simmons,
who came open out of the backfield on a wheel route, put the Pirates
ahead to stay at 13-10 with 8:57 left in the third quarter.
The scoreboard at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium
wasn't working and the referee occasionally announced how much time was
remaining. Maybe that was appropriate since the Pirates played like they
were in a time warp, taking a year off the calendar when Pinkney and/or
Kass played depending on which had the hot hand.
ECU coach Skip Holtz indicated that may
be the case going forward. The Pirate coaches will evaluate the Memphis
game tape and the two quarterbacks likely will split reps in practice
prior to a Sunday, Nov. 2 date at Central Florida on ESPN.
Holtz said the Pirates could smile
again, something they hadn't been able to do since a 28-24 win at Tulane
over a month ago.
"We needed this one," said the ECU
coach. "It was important for our morale because we had a tough
nonconference schedule that beat us up a little bit. It was good to have
the opportunity to come home and continue league play and now sit 2-1 in
"The guys came to practice this week
and worked hard, knowing that there was a lot left to play for."
Kass completed 9 of 17 passes for 167
yards with his two touchdowns. All but eight of his passing yards coming
after halftime. It was heartwarming to see a guy who had patiently
waited his turn step up when he got his most significant playing time
Other heroes may have been obscured as
the spotlight shone brightly on Kass. Williams finished with 108 yards
rushing, and Norman Whitley showed a nose for the end zone when his
12-yard run with 4:59 remaining completed the scoring.
There also may have been a tendency to
overlook the ECU defense, which allowed just one touchdown that coming
after the Pirates muffed a punt and presented the Tigers with choice
field position at the ECU 7.
Memphis got no points on a subsequent
possession after being presented the ball at the ECU 18 on a second
"Our defense played very well," Holtz
said. "I hate that Memphis lost two of their quarterbacks and I feel bad
for Tommy (West, Memphis coach) over there. We didn't let Memphis drive
the ball and that was a key part of their game."
The Tigers had to trim their playbook
with inexperienced quarterbacks but the situation required adjustments
by the Pirates as well.
"We watched them all week on the
starting quarterback (Arkelon Hall)," said defensive lineman C.J.
Wilson, who had a sack, two tackles for loss and five tackles in all.
"He ran a lot more than the second-team or third-team quarterbacks.
"We didn't let that make us lose our
focus. We just kept playing hard."
It had been a long time between drinks
from the victory cup for the Pirates.
"It feels great to get back on the
winning track," Wilson said. "That's what football and sports is all
about. It's all about winning, so we're happy we got that win today."
Kass was very gracious in his postgame
remarks but it was clear that he was thrilled to be able to contribute
significantly to a much-needed win.
"Good things come to those who wait,"
The Pirate Nation would agree as the
purple-clad masses also have waited for the Pirates to get going again.