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Sept. 22, 2012 | Kenan Stadium | Chapel Hill | Attendance: 59,500

Features >> Inside Game Day | Game Slants | Photo Gallery | Post-game Audio

Inside Game Day
Saturday, September 22, 2012

By Al Myatt

No justice for Pirates

By Al Myatt
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CHAPEL HILL — In a Hollywood script, East Carolina would have gotten a scoring pass from Shane Carden to Justin Hardy in the closing seconds and the Pirates would have gone home with a miraculous win at Kenan Stadium on Saturday.

The bad guys in light blue, serving their season on NCAA postseason restriction, would have gotten what they deserved and good would have triumphed.

Coach Ruffin McNeill would have been carried off the field as the band played the fight song.

ECU was within striking distance at the half, trailing 10-6 after usually-reliable North Carolina kicker Casey Barth missed a 34-yard field goal. What some might have seen as a sign of a Tar Heels demise was nothing more than a momentary aberration.

Stark reality soon set in on the sunny and warm first day of fall. ECU absorbed a 27-6 setback as the second half belonged to the Heels. Bryn Renner picked the Pirates apart with 27 completions on 43 attempts for 321 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions to stop a 2-game losing streak.

It was a contrast to McNeill's first trip to Chapel Hill as Pirates coach in 2010 when the Heels broke the matchup open in the second half with their running attack and won 42-17.

One silver lining Saturday is that ECU has sufficient depth and talent on defense now to prevent a reoccurrence of that kind of domination in the ground game.

"They did a pretty good job of stopping the run, but obviously when they stopped the run we had to pick it up somewhere else," said Heels back Giovani Bernard, who played for the first time since a season-opening 62-0 win over Elon. "Bryn had an amazing game."

The difference in the two regional rivals could probably be expressed in terms of what happens when a good Conference USA team meets a middle of the pack Atlantic Coast Conference program over the course of 60 minutes.

The Pirates didn't make as many mistakes as in a 48-10 loss at No. 7 South Carolina two weeks ago when the Gamecocks feasted on five turnovers but the Heels achieved separation by taking advantage of ECU blunders.

North Carolina went up 17-6 on a touchdown pass from Renner to Sean Tapley covering 62 yards with 10:45 left in the third quarter. Tapley ran through a tackle attempt by Pirate freshman Josh Hawkins en route to the end zone.

With the Pirates seeking an answer on their ensuing series, Carden was sacked by Kevin Reddick and lost the handle at the ECU 15. Kareem Martin recovered for the Heels and the deficit was soon 24-6, a considerable margin for a Pirate offense which was struggling to regain the rhythm that had led to two short field goals by Warren Harvey in the second quarter.

"I wish we had gotten some touchdowns there at the beginning where we had to settle for field goals," McNeill said. "We thought it was important to get started in the second half and we went three and out on defense. ... From that point on we had some mishaps happen that really set us back a little bit. Against a team like that, as talented as they are, you can't have those setbacks."

Furr happy as a Pirate

Hunter Furr transferred from North Carolina after Butch Davis was fired as coach prior to the 2011 season. He and Renner used to room together. The junior running back had five carries for a net of 19 yards in his return to Kenan Stadium.

"It definitely was a unique experience coming back," Furr said. "I'm still friends with some of the guys on the team but to be honest it's great to be a Pirate. I wouldn't want to play for anybody but Coach Ruffin McNeill."

Furr said the Pirates showed their potential in the second quarter. ECU had 162 total yards at the half but netted just 233 for the game. North Carolina recorded five of its seven sacks in the third quarter.

"We need to start playing four quarters like the second quarter," Furr said. " ... We have four backs who can all do it. All four bring something different to the table. We have special packages. Whether it's Ta Cooper on the swing or me pounding it or Reggie (Bullock) making the jitter moves or (Michael) Dobson, he does it all, we all do some greats things together and can do something unique."

McNeill reiterated his belief in "running back by committee" in his postgame news conference.

Grove evaluates defense

Inside linebacker Jeremy Grove had six solo tackles and three assists with two tackles for loss in the game. He was not pleased with the outcome but knows the Pirates will be home next Saturday night to put a 1-0 Conference USA record on the line against Texas-El Paso.

"Execution-wise, I don't think we did well," he said after the Pirates fell to 2-2 overall. "They executed on the plays we didn't execute. Overall, I felt like we swarmed to the ball. We've got to get better at tackling. We missed a lot of tackles. ... We did great on the run game. ... We need to work on coverage. D-line and whoever's blitzing needs to work on getting pressure."

ECU responded to its only previous loss by regrouping for a cathartic 24-14 win at Southern Miss.

"This game's behind us," Grove said. "We'll watch film (Sunday), learn from it, fix our mistakes this week and get after it. We've got a home game and we're real excited. It's a conference game so it's really important."

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09/23/2012 02:45:40 AM


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