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From the Anchor Desk
Tuesday, September 4, 2012

By Brian Bailey

Brian Bailey

Pirates charge ahead into road gauntlet


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Pirates charge ahead into road gauntlet
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Al Myatt's Inside Game Day
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By Brian Bailey
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Rarely does a football game go pretty much the way you thought it might go.

Sure, many of us like to think we know a little about the game, but usually things go differently when the teams get on the field.

Fortunately things went East Carolina's way after a bit of a slow start in the opener.

As expected, Appalachian State came to town and punched the Pirates right in the mouth with an early score. The Mountaineers had the football looking for more when the ECU defense made the first big play of the new season.

The Pirates forced a Jamal Jackson fumble. Chip Thompson scooped up the football and ran for a touchdown.

Thompson wasn’t so sure it was a fumble, but decided not to take any chances.

“I just did what the coaches tell me,” said Thompson. “We are taught to keep playing until we hear a whistle.”

The play was reviewed and upheld. Evidently, the officials didn’t have the benefit of the angle that we had at the station, because it really looked to me like Jackson’s knee was down when the ball came loose.

Regardless, the play stood. It was the first of two huge plays. The special teams stepped up later, just when the Pirates needed it most.

Appalachian State had regained some momentum, kicking a field goal to cut the Pirates' lead down to a single point.

That’s when Lance Ray went to work. He fielded the ensuing kickoff at the ten-yard line and made a beeline up the middle for an East Carolina touchdown.

“I’ve had a few guys over the years that can make you look like a smart special teams coach,” said ECU assistant coach Kirk Doll. “It was a great team effort on that return.”

From there, the Pirates simply wore down ASU, adding a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns in the 35-13 victory.

It went pretty much according to script, with the Pirates' conditioning and depth proving to be too much for the Mountaineers.

The schedule intensifies quickly as the road beckons for three straight games. Up first is perhaps the most difficult of the assignments as East Carolina takes on South Carolina in Columbia.

“We now start our road warrior part of the schedule,” said Pirate head coach Ruffin McNeill.

How the Pirates respond to the adversity that comes with the gauntlet of challenges away from home will determine the amount of success the team finds in 2012.

“I think we will go there with plenty of confidence,” said sophomore linebacker Jeremy Grove of the encounter with the Gamecocks.

Grove was named as the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Week after recording nine tackles and forcing two fumbles in the win over Appalachian State. His tackle on ASU quarterback Jamal Jackson popped the football loose and led to Thompson’s game-changing fumble return for a touchdown.

“We know we were right in the game last year against South Carolina,” Grove said. The Pirates led the Gamecocks in Charlotte 17-0 early before a rash of turnovers led to a 56-37 South Carolina win.

“We’ll take a combination of the two games,” said McNeill when I asked about which game — the ASU win this year or the South Carolina loss last year — would be more beneficial to the team in studying film.

“There are certainly things we can take away from both,” McNeill added.

The Pirates will be underdogs, and like ASU did last week, will head to Columbia with a little chip on their shoulder.
South Carolina edged Vanderbilt last Thursday night and may have an injury to deal with at quarterback. Connor Shaw couldn’t lift his arm on Monday.

The Pirates expect him to play.

McNeill praised four sides of the ball after the opening day win. Offense, defense, special teams and the Pirates sideline all came together as one in the victory.

All four will have to show up big time this weekend at Williams-Brice Stadium.


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09/04/2012 05:24 AM


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