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Game 9: ECU 19, Marshall 16 OT


Inside Game Day
Sunday, November 9, 2008

By Al Myatt

Hartman, Pirates getting their kicks

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

GREENVILLE — After day had become night at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Saturday, East Carolina moved into the driver's seat in the Conference USA East Division race as junior kicker Ben Hartman reprised his role as game-ending hero with a 27-yard field goal in overtime.

Hartman's kick was the final punctuation mark on a 19-16 win over Marshall in the showdown between C-USA East Division leaders. It was his second game-ending overtime field goal in six nights as his 39-yarder at Central Florida accounted for a 13-10 win and put the Pirates in position to play the Thundering Herd for the division lead.

Hartman ended wins over North Carolina in Greenville and Boise State in the Hawaii Bowl last season with his foot, but he missed a 42-yarder at the end of regulation against the Thundering Herd with the score tied at 16.

"I felt confident going into that kick," Hartman said of the situation at the end of the fourth quarter at the east end of Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. "I was crushed, devastated. It's the first one I've blown to win a game."

Pirates coach Skip Holtz and Hartman have a routine of sharing jokes to reduce the pressure on big kicks. Holtz said Hartman's attempt at humor at the end of regulation on Saturday wasn't suitable for repeating.

"I told him that's why he missed it — because we couldn't share it with the media." Holtz said.

Hartman had asked Holtz why the skeleton did not cross the road before his winning kick at Central Florida. Holtz got a kick out of the punchline: "Because he didn't have the guts."

Holtz should really get a kick out of being 4-1 in Conference USA with a one-game lead over second-place Marshall (3-2) and the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Thundering Herd.

"I'm proud of this team," said the Pirates coach. "I keep saying that but they keep competing. It wasn't always pretty with what we did offensively. Tonight we threw the ball really well, but we couldn't turn and run the ball."

After the running game had gotten 135 yards on 28 carries from Norman Whitley at Central Florida, the Pirates produced a net of just 100 yards on the ground against the Herd.

But Patrick Pinkney stepped up after missing a start at UCF. Pinkney completed 26 of 37 on homecoming against the Herd for 287 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. After yielding six sacks at UCF, the ECU offensive front allowed just one by Marshall.

ECU yielded a tying touchdown with 1:21 to play as Marshall freshman quarterback Mark Cann connected with tight end Cody Slate on a seam route for a 34-yard score. That came after a 15-yard shanked punt by Matt Dodge gave the Herd a short field at the ECU 40 with 1:33 left.

"We kept talking about keeping the ball in front of us and then we gave up that seam route," Holtz said.

Pinkney drove the Pirates into position for Hartman's tying attempt but even after that one drifted wide left, Holtz said the Pirates were buoyant.

"The feeling on the sideline right now is absolutely incredible," Holtz said. "Even when we were trying to get the momentum back, everybody felt we were fine. Their attitudes are really positive right now and I'm really proud of them."

ECU leads C-USA in scoring defense and lowered its points allowed average from 21.9 to 20.1 with the effort against the Herd.

Linebacker Pierre Bell, strong safety Leon Best and linebacker Jeremy Chambliss were in on eight tackles apiece against Marshall. Corner Emanuel Davis picked off two passes in the first quarter.

Bell came out for the overtime coin toss and won that for the second time in a week.

"Pierre Bell and some of those leaders that we have on defense right now, like Zack Slate, played outstanding," Holtz said. "Even (defensive linemen) Jay Ross and C.J. Wilson and some of those guys who realize that they only have three games left are starting to get really vocal.

"They have a lot of confidence right now. Even missing that field goal was something that was not going to discourage them."

Slate deflected Marshall's first down pass in overtime and pressured Cann into an incompletion on third down.

The Pirates are a focused football team. Hartman did not know that the next game was at Southern Miss at 3 p.m. on Saturday.

"That's part of the mentality of going 1-0 every week," Hartman said. "Staying humble and hungry."

Southern Miss has struggled under first-year coach Larry Fedora but the Golden Eagles have shown signs of a turnaround in recent weeks with a 70-14 beatdown of UAB last week and a 17-6 win at UCF on Saturday.

The matchup with the Golden Eagles will be another huge game as the Pirates pursue their first league title since winning the Southern Conference in 1976.

ECU will have some history on its side as it heads for Hattiesburg. The last trip produced a 20-17 overtime win in 2006 as that guy Hartman hit the winning points on a 19-yard field goal before an interception by Travis Williams sealed the outcome.

Hartman has gotten a lot of experience on big kicks since then.

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11/09/2008 04:01:57 AM


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