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
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
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
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
"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
"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."
View box score and statistics on goheels.com