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From the Anchor Desk
Tuesday, November 25, 2008

By Brian Bailey

Holtz to deploy all able bodies

By Brian Bailey
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East Carolina's roller coaster of a football season will make a stop out west for the Conference USA championship game in two weeks. Before that the Pirates close out the season hosting a team from the west in Texas-El Paso.

At first glance, the UTEP game on Friday doesn’t mean a lot in the big picture. East Carolina’s date is secure for the C-USA title game.

The Pirates hope to play that championship game with as many able bodies as possible. One thought was to rest several key players on Friday. Pirate Coach Skip Holtz laughed at that idea.

“All of the backups are already starting,” said Holtz with a smile. “We can’t really afford the luxury of resting anyone even if we wanted to. All of the guys holding cards in practice in the preseason are now a part of the two-deep.”

Still, there are several players that could certainly use a week off. Holtz, though, says if a guy can go, then he’s going to go.

"Right now with the injured players, I think if they can go we're going to play them," he said at his weekly press conference. "I don't think we're in a position right now where we can hold a bunch of guys out.

"Obviously if (ECU trainer) Mike Hanley doesn't think they're good to go than we'll hold them. But we'll have to make some evaluations. That's why you have so many questionable and probable players at this point in the week.

"We're certainly not going to push anything. We're going to treat it like this game is every bit as important as the last one."

My favorite all-time Skip Holtz quote about the ugly baby keeps getting a reprise. Holtz joked about it again. He says he’d love to score 60 points in a game, but if he has to win ugly then he certainly will.

“It’s an ugly baby but it’s our baby,” Holtz reiterated. “And we’ve been loving it up.”

Give Holtz, his coaching staff and the players credit for taking care of business, despite all of the injuries. As everyone talked about last week, the Pirates had to somehow, someway, get that win and wrap up that shot in the C-USA title game.

All of the injuries have given us a glimpse of the future at East Carolina. The Pirates may be thin at the wide receiver position now, but I think one of the newcomers, Joe Womack, is going to be a star.

This time last year as a quarterback, Womack was leading Northside-Jacksonville to the regional finals in the state high school playoffs. Now, Womack is trying to make a difference for this ECU team down the stretch.

UTEP comes to town this week and then the Pirates will head west. Houston needs a win to wrap up the other slot. A Houston loss to Rice and a Tulsa win over Marshall sends East Carolina to Oklahoma to play the Golden Hurricane. Rice needs a win over Houston and a Tulsa loss to get a chance to host East Carolina.

Again, the Pirates don’t need a win this week. But don’t tell that to Coach Holtz.

"We're taking the approach that this game is one of 12. We've got an opportunity to raise our record from 7-4 to 8-4," Holtz said. "This isn't a throwaway game to us. This is a game where we can gain some experience and go compete.

"As I told the team, at this point you don't know what bowl you're going to go to, you don't know how things are going to happen and it's going to be determined by how we play from here on out. So this is as important of a game as any of them.”

We are in for a couple of very different weeks in Pirate football.

This week UTEP fights for bowl eligibility, while the Pirates try to get through the game without any more injuries. Then next week, East Carolina gets a one-game shot at something this program has wanted for some time, a Conference USA championship.

Both assignments will certainly test the Pirate defense. This is a far cry from battling the likes of Marshall, Central Florida, Southern Miss and UAB in defensive struggles. The entire west can fling the football around.

UTEP may prove to be the appetizer. The Pirates will certainly get a taste of the high flying west in the season finale before shuffling off for the championship game.


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11/25/2008 12:53:30 AM


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