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From the Anchor Desk
Tuesday, September 18, 2012

By Brian Bailey

Brian Bailey

Underdog ECU moves on to Chapel Hill

By Brian Bailey
All rights reserved.

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We won’t truly know how big East Carolina's win over Southern Miss was until later in the season. Right now it looks huge.

The Pirates were smack dab in the middle of a tough three-game stretch, which opened with a blowout loss at South Carolina and included a tough first half against Conference USA rival USM.

In the second half of the Saturday encounter with Southern Miss, the Pirates came together on three sides of the football. The offense was solid, the defense was creating turnovers and putting points on the board, and the special teams were just that.

The end result of that second half transformation in Hattiesburg: The Pirates beat the Golden Eagles 24-14 in a key game for the East Division race in Conference USA.

“It was a big win for our team on Saturday against Southern Miss,” Pirate coach Ruffin McNeill said on Monday at his weekly news conference. [Replay Monday's press conference...] “I was very happy with the resiliency that our team showed in the game.

"It was a tough offensive first half. We have talked about getting contributions from all sides of the ball. That way when one side of the ball struggles the other two sides can carry them.”

Shane Carden was a winner in his first start at East Carolina. The stats weren’t dazzling by any means, but Carden got a winning grade from his coach.

“It was a ‘W’,” said McNeill. “Shane is able to extend plays and make plays and that was big for us in this game.”

Carden was visibly unsettled when he was not chosen to start the opener against Appalachian State. He was certainly supportive of Rio Johnson, but he didn’t try to show his emotions.

“I was upset,” said Carden. “You work so hard in the spring and in the summer, and I really wanted the job. I was completely behind Rio, but I wanted to get better and win the job.”

Carden did just that, and now it’s Carden that heads to Chapel Hill as the ECU starter at the quarterback position against North Carolina.

“Shane is a player that has waited for his opportunity and I thought he made good decisions in his first start,” said McNeill. “I feel as if he will get better and more comfortable as he gets more game reps. I thought he handled his first start well and was very poised.”

Carden will have to be poised this week as the Pirates head to Chapel Hill. Emotions always run high in this game, especially on the ECU sideline. The Pirates have only won twice in the 14 games of the series.

Carden says his team intends to approach this game like any other.

That will be easier said than done.

“We’ll try to treat it like a regular game,” Carden said. “But I know it will be a great atmosphere.”

Like most coaches, Coach Ruff downplays the emotional side.

“We need to be excited and match the energy that North Carolina will have at the beginning of the game and at the same time continue to execute our offense,” said McNeill. “After the initial hype and early game energy wears off it comes down to execution, and that is what we will be preaching to our team throughout this week.”

The Pirates are a little over a two-touchdown underdog in the game.

While East Carolina comes in on a positive, the Tar Heels have lost two in a row. First came the disappointment against Wake Forest. Then on Saturday, the Heels fell behind Louisville 36-7 at the half before rallying and really having a great chance to win the game. Brynn Renner couldn’t hook up with Erik Highsmith in the final minutes on a potential game winning touchdown pass.

Those two losses mean North Carolina is a team that really needs a victory.

The Pirates probably feel like they are playing with house money, because they were underdogs in Hattiesburg and will be so again in Chapel Hill.

Shane Carden has a certain swagger at quarterback. He was also voted a team captain last week. Just think what the Pirate Nation will think of Carden if he can orchestrate an upset over the Heels.


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09/18/2012 01:10 AM


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