The tendency of the fanbases at East
Carolina and North Carolina may be to deride one another going into
their noon football game Saturday at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill.
The institutions have
a history of conflict dating
back to the 1960s and '70s when a battle to establish a medical school
was successfully waged in the state legislature
by East Carolina Teachers College alumnus Robert B. Morgan.
Morgan went on to serve as state attorney general, U.S. Senator and
director of the State Bureau of Investigation.
Morgan characterized his role as that
of foot soldier for Dr. Leo Jenkins, an ex-Marine who was then-East
Carolina College's president at the time. After getting the initial
phase of the medical school approved, Jenkins soon pushed for university
status for East Carolina. Another bitter battle ensued that strained
relationships between the two institutions for future generations.
Pirate fans can chant "ECU" with pride
and vigor thanks to the forefathers who overcame opposition to the
concept of the institution Down East moving beyond its designation as a
A proposed dental school in Greenville
has resurrected some of the historical conflict between East Carolina
and North Carolina.
The Tar Heels have been cast in the
role of tyrants from the Pirate perspective. ECU has continued to
challenge UNC-Chapel Hill's king of the hill position in the state
Dr. Jenkins saw football as a means of
advancement for East Carolina, one that could help raise his
university's profile, elevate its self-perception, and put the Pirates
in a position of conquest on the major college level.
In simple terms, the Tar Heels are the
haves, the affluent, the establishment. The Pirates are the downtrodden,
the huddled masses yearning to emerge in their own right and secure a
better way of life for their region through improved educational
The North Carolina-East Carolina
football series, which started in 1972, has developed against that
backdrop of off-the-field conflict, a manifestation of the animosity
that has existed between the two institutions politically. The series
was dormant from 1981 to 2001, when the threat of legislative action led
to its resumption.
There are North Carolina fans who
resent the pending intrusion on their domain. They harbor the sentiment
that the Pirates must be put in their place. There are ECU fans who see
the matchup as an opportunity to strike a blow against a ruthless
There apparently will be no locker room
bulletin board material emanating from coaches Butch Davis of the Tar
Heels or Skip Holtz of the Pirates along the lines of those historical
stereotypes. Based on their evaluations this week, their offensive
coordinators do face some huge challenges.
"Defense is the strength of this
football team," Holtz said of the Tar Heels. "They have nine returning
starters from last year, five of them we played against us here two
years ago. It's not that their only year starting is last year; they've
been starting for two years. There are some really good players in the
"The defense has only given up 174.5
yards per game, 10.5 first downs per game, eight points a game, 14
percent conversion rate on third down, which is unheard of, and 1.9
yards per rush. This is a very good defensive football team. They remind
me a lot of the Virginia Tech team we played two years ago that finished
No. 1 in the country in total defense.
"It starts with the front four, who all
return. Marvin Austin is an absolute beast. He's a great player who
beats blocks frequently. Robert Quinn on the perimeter is all over the
field. We thought our tackles were challenged last week? (35-20
ECU loss at West Virginia) They're really going to be
challenged this week with the pressure their defensive ends can bring
off the perimeter. The front line is so big, strong and athletic. Our
offensive line is going to have a heck of a challenge this week.
"Quan Sturdivant in the middle is a
big, fast, physical, hard-nosed football player. I've really been
impressed with him. He has been all over the field, especially last week
against Connecticut (12-10 UNC-CH win). You can really tell he has taken
a leadership role. He's a great player.
"When you look in the secondary,
Charles Brown [is] their lockdown corner. I don't see a lot of
weaknesses in this defense. They're going to play man coverage, get
after you and put pressure on you. At the end of Saturday's game against
Connecticut, when Connecticut did an onside kick and recovered it,
Connecticut got to about midfield and North Carolina just came after
them. Then Connecticut started going backwards. This defense is going to
be a heck of a challenge."
Davis wasn't any less glowing in his
appraisal of the Pirates.
"When we looked at the schedule, we
knew each week was going to be a bigger challenge and a more
physically-gifted football team," said the Tar Heels coach. "Certainly,
East Carolina presents that. It's probably one of the more mature,
older, experienced veteran teams in the entire country.
"They return 17 fifth-year seniors,
which in and of itself is a significant challenge for a young football
team. They had a lot of success. They're
defending Conference USA champions
from a year ago. They're very physically gifted. They've got an
"Their defensive line are all NFL
Both teams will be seeking to bolster
sporadic offensive production in last week's games.
To hear the coaches, we may be looking
at a showdown between placekickers in overtime if both defenses play as
staunchly as stated. Tendencies at this point in the season are not
clearly defined. Some foresaw South Carolina's game last week at Georgia
as a certain defensive struggle but the Bulldogs had to hold on in a
Both the Pirates and Tar Heels, ranked
No. 19 in
the coaches poll, have some
injury issues to address with running back Dominique Lindsay sidelined
for ECU and the loss of the Heels' starting center forcing adjustments
Both programs stand to spend a lot of
emotion on Saturday, a week before each initiates league play.
"The challenge escalates that much more
this week for a number of reasons," Holtz said. "It's an in-state game
that is very emotional for our players, fan base and alumni. With the
North Carolina and East Carolina fan bases being so intertwined, there's
an awful lot that goes into this game emotionally."
won 34-31 in the last meeting in
2007 as Ben Hartman connected on a 39-yard, game-ending field goal in
Greenville. ECU not only needs a win in the nationally-televised contest
(ESPN2) for bragging rights and any sort of historical justification for
its constituents but to avoid a total lack of momentum going into next
week's C-USA opener against Central Florida in Greenville.
"Our players know that East Carolina is
going to come in here and want very, very badly to knock us off," said
North Carolina athletic director Dick Baddour.