CHAPEL HILL — Maybe there
were some clues before
East Carolina's 55-31 blowout of North Carolina
on Saturday but it came as a total shock to many.
It had to be a stunner for
the oddsmakers, who had rated the Tar Heels a two-touchdown favorite.
It wasn't what you would
expect for Military Appreciation Day unless maybe you were thinking of
something along the lines of General Custer's showing at Little Big
The Pirates had been
unable to get out of neutral after their opening drive in
a 15-10 home loss to Virginia Tech
on Sept. 14. ECU quarterback Shane Carden seemed almost shellshocked
after getting sacked seven times by the Hokies.
Carden also had been
sacked seven times in
a 27-6 loss at Kenan Stadium last year.
Virginia Tech's Logan
Thomas had passed for 285 yards against a Pirate secondary that looked
like it was playing hide and seek. So what kind of field day would North
Carolina's Bryn Renner have after passing for 312 yards and two
touchdowns against ECU as a junior?
The matchup had all the
makings of a nightmare for the Pirates unless you saw some telltale
signs, like the Hokies' 17-10 win at Georgia Tech on Thursday night.
Virginia Tech pretty much
shut down an offense that had propelled the Yellow Jackets past Duke and
the Tar Heels.
The Hokies defense had
held No. 1 Alabama to 206 yards of total offense.
So ECU's lack of
production may have been about the caliber of opponent as much as a
failure of the Pirate offense to execute.
While Georgia Tech's
physical triple option was tenderizing the Tar Heels last weekend, the
Pirates were resting and looking to redeem themselves from a
disappointing showing against their first ACC opponent of the season.
Practically from the
opening kickoff on Saturday, the Pirates played like Clark Kent after he
emerges from a phone booth.
Well, that is, if Superman
happened to change his fashion look to all black.
The ECU infomercial that
unfolded on the ACC Network over almost four hours was astonishing for
just about everybody but those embedded in the Pirate program.
"An awesome win," said
Carden after leading the offensive transformation with 32 completions on
47 attempts for 376 yards with three TD passes and one pick. He also ran
for three scores and even led the band in the postgame celebration.
"This one's for Pirate
Nation," said the ECU quarterback. "There were a lot of people, some of
them at our own university, that didn't have a lot of faith in us going
into this week, but we always did. Coach Ruff (Pirates coach Ruffin
McNeill) said, 'Don't listen to the noise, good or bad.' ... We just
played our hearts out."
The Pirates had just one
win in 12 previous trips to Chapel Hill, the only successful venture
coming in 1975 when ECU posted a 38-17 win on the emotional fuel
provided by the passing of iconic coach and athletic director Clarence
McNeill and his staff have
been saying that their recruiting has been getting better. There is also
the aspect of player development once recruits get to campus. Strength
and conditioning director Jeff Connors walked off the field with a sense
of accomplishment. He returned to ECU in 2011 after 10 years in a
similar role at North Carolina.
Evidence of Connors'
effectiveness was the Heels' meager rushing production, just 67 yards on
32 rushes. Connors also conditions the Pirates to perform in the fourth
quarter, when ECU outscored its host, 13-7.
There were a lot of
positive numbers for the Pirates on the stat sheet. Vintavious Cooper
ran 35 times for 186 yards and had eight catches for 70 yards. ECU had
603 total yards of offense. The Pirates converted eight of 16 third
downs and three of four fourth downs.
ECU (3-1) was eight for
eight on red zone scoring chances.
Also huge was the zero
under the Pirates' sacks allowed column.
North Carolina drew nine
penalties for 94 yards. ECU was flagged just three times for 34 yards.
"I was glad we had a
minimal amount," McNeill said.
There was plenty to be
glad about. Pirate fans stayed in the northeast corner of the stadium to
share the joy long after the Tar Heel supporters among the crowd
announced at 60,000 had found the exits.
Chancellor Steve Ballard
waited to give McNeill a hug as he walked off the field. The fourth-year
head coach had a game ball, which he planned to present to his dad,
Ruffin McNeill, Sr., in Lumberton.
"We're just proud of the
entire effort of the team," said Dr. Ballard shortly after a 48-yard
pass play from Carden to Lance Ray had completed the scoring with 3:33
to go. "Ruff's been getting this team better every year and this is a
culmination of it. We come into Kenan Stadium and win, it's great for
the whole university. We're just proud of the team."
director Jeff Compher is 1-0 against North Carolina.
"I know how much this
victory means to all of our fans and what it means to this program,"
Compher said. "I'm just so proud to be here and be a part of it."
Cooper was asked what he
thought people were doing in Greenville.
"They're partying," said
the senior running back. "We can't wait to get back there and join
Saturday's elation was
shared by many who might have expected a bleaker afternoon against their
Sometimes surprise parties
are the best.
View box score and statistics on ecupirates.com
Read game recap on ecupirates.com
Read game recap on goheels.com