TAKE ON PIRATE SPORTS
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Coach Ruffin McNeill has
felt firsthand the emotions that go into an East Carolina football game
against rival North Carolina.
McNeill was a defensive back for a Pirate team that lost two and tied
once to the Tar Heels during his playing days.
As a freshman, McNeill was
a part of a 12-10 defeat. As a junior, he registered seven tackles in a
14-10 Pirate loss.
As a senior, McNeill
recovered a fumble and had a couple of solo stops as the Pirates and Tar
Heels battled to a 24-24 tie.
In those three games, the
Heels outscored the Pirates by just six points.
McNeill remembers the
games well. Back then, the players knew one another from playing
head-to-head in the high school ranks and in the all-star games.
"It was always a very
hard-hitting football game,” said McNeill. “It was not a place for the
faint of heart. It was always the mentality that we know you, but we're
going to try and tear you up. Now I look at the guys on the sideline and
I know the majority of their coaches. I know our players know a lot of
their players, too. It'll be fun."
McNeill is certainly a Pat
Dye disciple. Both coaches stress the fundamentals and both love to
distribute the football on offense. Dye used the wishbone. McNeill has
adopted the “air raid” spread attack led by Lincoln Riley.
“One of the things Coach
(Pat) Dye talked about was making sure we played as hard as we possibly
could,” said McNeill reflecting back. “We represented Eastern North
Carolina. Not just East Carolina or where you're from, but the whole
part of the state. There are a lot of people who look up to our team and
This time out Ruffin
McNeill will be in his fourth game as a head coach. It’s a rivalry game
that he knows all about. He knows the teams, the coaches and the
programs very well.
"When I look at the (North
Carolina) staff, maybe because I've been in college football for quite a
while, I know the majority of it really well.” said McNeill. “I know
they've had a tough time at it. They have gone though some adversity.
But you have to take hats off to them as they've held that team
together, even missing some guys. They've done a good job coaching.”
For an Eastern North
Carolina sports fan, this game features a who’s who of former high
school stars for both East Carolina and North Carolina.
Wide receivers Erik
Highsmith for the Tar Heels and Mike Price for East Carolina battled for
West Craven and New Bern respectfully.
Pirate wide receiver Joe
Womack and North Carolina defensive lineman Donte Paige-Moss were
teammates at Northside High School in Jacksonville.
The Tar Heels have a list
of eastern North Carolina high school standouts. Ruffin McNeill is
figuring on luring some of that talent to Greenville.
“We hope to get some of
those guys in the future,” McNeill said and smiled.
On the other side of the
coin, North Carolina’s Butch Davis has had his problems with East
Carolina. He lost a home game and the “flood” game in Raleigh to East
Carolina while serving as the University of Miami’s head coach.
He also lost to ECU in
Greenville in his first year at North Carolina before beating the
Pirates last season in Chapel Hill.
Davis also says his
players look forward to the matchup.
“Any time you play
in-state it gets everybody excited,” said Davis. “Many of the kids have
known each other through their high school careers. They’ve read about
them or played against them in the state playoffs. I think our guys
realize playing in-state has a little more significance.”
I’ve had a chance to see
the last four in the series and every one of the contests has been great
From Art Brown’s fumble in
2001 to Ben Hartman’s game winner in 2007, the games have been good
The Pirates and the Heels
look to add a chapter on Saturday.
It should be a great
atmosphere, especially with so many players from Eastern North Carolina
on the field.
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10/20/2010 01:01 AM