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View from the 'ville
Thursday, March 12, 2009

By Al Myatt

Shot of adrenalin arrives for grid fans

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

Comedian Steve Martin played an unaffectedly simple character in the 1979 movie, "The Jerk." His name was Navin Johnson and he became quite excited to see his name in the fine print of one of Ma Bell's directories.

"The new phone book's here!" Navin proclaimed. "The new phone book's here!"

East Carolina's new football schedule was released on Wednesday, and no doubt the enthusiasm of some Pirate fans reached a similar scale as they finally could focus on opponents and dates for the encore to ECU's Conference USA championship season in 2008.

The non-conference portion of the 2009 gauntlet had already been announced and it is a testimony to the influence and vision of athletic director Terry Holland. He has revived the long dormant rivalry with Appalachian State to start the season in Greenville on Sept. 5.

The Mountaineer faithful will latch on to any available tickets making the matchup a financial success. It also will generate considerably more emotion with both fan bases than any other football championship subdivision team the Pirates could schedule. East Carolina's rivalry with the Apps predates its series with N.C. State by 38 years.

ECU's first football team back in 1932 went 0-5 and the final loss that season came by a 21-0 margin in Boone. The Pirates didn't beat the Apps until 1952. Up to that point, the Mountaineers led the series 10-0 with some one-sided results such as a 64-0 thrashing in 1939 and a 47-0 pounding in 1948.

ASU leads the series 19-10 but the two programs haven't played since ECU took a 38-21 win in Boone in 1979. The Pirates had charted a course in the major college ranks after whipping ASU 35-7 in 1976 to capture the Southern Conference championship.

The Mountaineers have chosen to remain on the Division I-AA/FCS level quite successfully, winning three straight national titles until they were derailed by eventual champion Richmond in the 2008 playoffs. ECU has made plenty of noise in the Division I-A/bowl championship subdivision since the two programs on opposite ends of the state stopped butting heads.

The echoes are still reverberating from ASU's monumental 34-32 win at Michigan to open the 2007 season. The Pirates will certainly not take their season opener lightly in 2009 with respect to that outcome nor will the Mountaineers sneak into Greenville as a bona fide underdog.

While ASU and ECU have only a one-game contract at present, Holland has indicated he would like to play the Mountaineers more often. The Apps replaced N.C. State on the ECU schedule for next season.

"The scheduling rearrangement to move the home game with N.C. State to 2010 and to play Appalachian State at Dowdy-Ficklen in 2009 allows us to have six home games in both 2009 and 2010," Holland said. "The previous schedule would have required us to play seven road games in 2010.

"The non-conference road schedule for 2010 would have been games at N.C. State, at North Carolina and at Virginia Tech with West Virginia at home."

Additions and renovations of Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium were planned to be completed by 2010.

The Pirates will face their second set of Mountaineers in as many weeks when they journey to West Virginia on Sept. 12. WVU won't have quarterback Patrick White, who was outplayed by ECU's Patrick Pinkney in a 24-3 Pirates win in Greenville last season. But Pinkney will, of course, be back in purple and gold thanks to a favorable NCAA ruling on his medical hardship application.

Pinkney completed 22 of 28 passes last season against West Virginia for 236 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. The best game to date in Pinkney's career came when he threw for 406 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-31 win over the Tar Heels in 2007. The rematch is in Chapel Hill on Sept. 19.

Among the significant arrivals and departures for UNC-CH is the exit of quarterback Cam Sexton, who apparently felt abandoned by coach Butch Davis after leading wins over Connecticut and Notre Dame last season. Sexton has headed for Catawba. Art Kaufman has joined Davis' staff as linebackers coach. Pirate fans should hope he has the same kind of impact for the Tar Heels that he had at ECU as a member of John Thompson's staff.

The Pirates enter C-USA play the following week (Sept. 26) at home against Central Florida. League play continues the next three Saturdays at Marshall (Oct. 3), at Southern Methodist (Oct. 10) and at home against Rice (Oct. 17).

Then the Pirates get into some ESPN dates that may get the fan base a little disoriented. Don't plan on attending church services the day after these games because there won't be anyone there.

C-USA gets some weird timeslots but at least it offers ECU some opportunities for unchallenged national exposure. When the Pirates weren't winning, they played a lot more of the traditional Saturday timeslots and ESPN wasn't interested in feeding the games to homes and potential recruits across the country.

On Tuesday, Oct. 27, ECU is at Memphis. That's followed by a Thursday night television date in Greenville with Virginia Tech on Nov. 5. The last time the Hokies came to Greenville, for an ESPN Thursday night game back in 2000, bad Pirate punt operations were a crucial factor in a 45-28 ECU loss. Long snapper Ryan Luckadoo went from anonymity to infamy.

Misfortunes in the punting game went ECU's way as T.J. Lee returned a block for a touchdown in last year's meeting with Virginia Tech, a 27-22 Pirate win in Charlotte. The Hokies recovered to win the ACC championship and will be seeking atonement as they venture into Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

The Pirates play at Tulsa on Sunday, Nov. 15 in a rematch of last season's league championship. Home games with UAB (Nov. 21) and Southern Miss (Nov. 28) complete the regular season.

The Golden Eagles are fearsome in Greenville, where their road record is an amazing 14-2. It will be a challenge for the Pirates to buck that trend at the end of the year. Hopefully coach Skip Holtz won't have the degree of personnel attrition to deal with in 2009 that the program was able to overcome in 2008.

"We've talked about trying to win championships since we arrived in Greenville," Holtz said. "It was something we talked about when we had won three games in two years (2003, 2004, before Holtz arrived). A lot of people looked at us like, 'Let's win about three or four games first.' Let's crawl before we walk."

The Pirates are running like Forrest Gump now and the 2009 schedule offers more opportunities for progress.

The new football schedule is out! The new football schedule is out!

It's intriguing to ponder the possibilities that this slate presents for the Pirates. It should certainly add some urgency to the start of spring practice on Monday.

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03/12/2009 06:00:13 AM


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