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Game 7: ECU 45, UTEP 42 (OT)


Game Slants
Sunday, October 14, 2007

By Denny O'Brien

Memorable season unfolding for ECU, Kass

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

EL PASO, TX — It’s easy to see why Skip Holtz spent eight months grooming Rob Kass to guide the East Carolina offense. That much was evident the moment Kass took the wheel in the second half of the Pirates’ victory over Houston.

In ECU’s thrilling 45-42 overtime victory over Texas-El Paso, Kass spent much of the night looking nothing like a championship quarterback. He missed open receivers, threw interceptions and occasionally looked uncomfortable against one of the nation’s softest defenses.

Maybe that’s because too many ticks remained on the clock. When hardly any remained, Kass awoke from his second half slumber in time to engineer ECU’s most improbable comeback in years.

“He threw some strikes — those two hitches on the sideline, and then throwing that ball in the end zone at the end,” ECU coach Skip Holtz said about the exquisitely-orchestrated drive that wiped out a seven-point deficit as regulation expired. “When he had to make the throws at the end, he did.

“We work it every day. We work the two-minute drill every single day. We go our offense versus our defense, so it’s good on good, and speed on speed. Sometimes we do it, and it takes us six minutes to get down the field, but we don’t even keep a clock sometimes.”

They did at UTEP, and it took Kass only 34 seconds and five plays to usher the Pirates 71 yards down the field.

While the Pirates no doubt were given a boost by a 15-yard face mask, it was Kass and his sure-handed receivers who did the most meaningful work. Twice he found Jamar Bryant on the sidelines before firing the 34-yard scoring strike to seldom-used Juwon Crowell.

“Even with (four) seconds to go on the last play, we knew that we could get it done,” Kass said. “If there was a single tick left on the clock, we had an opportunity and we were going to do it.

“Jamar Bryant did a great job of catching the ball and getting out of bounds… Juwon Crowell did a great job, he actually saw a little opening, broke inside, and I saw him. I stuck a foot in the ground and threw the ball as hard as I could and just prayed.”

During that final drive, Kass displayed the type of poise that generally separates good quarterbacks from average ones. His calm demeanor amid pressure and chaos suggested the scenario was nothing new to the strong-armed sophomore.

When you consider his other qualifications, Kass possesses the type of boiler plate skills that went into the position’s inception. Somewhere in the football’s quarterbacking laboratory, big, smart, rifle-armed athletes were invented, the type who can overwhelm an opponent with solid reads at the line of scrimmage and deadly deep outs.

Kass firmly fits that mold. At 6’4”, 247 pounds, he has pro stature and the proven ability to make all the necessary throws, to go along with the intelligence to break down a defense before the ball is snapped.

He’s certainly displayed a nice skill for delivering the deep ball with both precision and touch. Exiting spring practice, that no doubt was a strong selling point for a fan base that is downright finicky about the quarterback position.

The passing game is not his sole capability. Kass's brawny physique made his quarterback sneak in overtime for the game-winning touchdown the logical play call.

When the likes of Jeff Blake, Marcus Crandell, David Garrard, and James Pinkney are a member of your quarterback fraternity, even the most talented high school blue chipper can be a tough sell.

That Kass also has shown the resolve necessary to overcome self-incurred adversity speaks volumes about his character. With both humility and a renewed drive, he patiently awaited his turn while Patrick Pinkney skyrocketed up the depth chart and deep into the hearts of Pirate partisans.

Similar scenarios have proven a formula for impulsive decisions to transfer. For Kass it proved the ultimate gut check, a blaring wakeup call that he obviously answered.

“It says a lot for somebody to bounce back from some of the things that I have,” Kass said. “I couldn’t have done it without my family first, and without this coaching staff and these players.”

“They believed in me as much as I believed in them. I couldn’t ask for a better group of teammates. These guys, good, bad, and indifferent, they’re always there by your side. We’re a family here.”

Against the Conference USA West leader, this was a family that stuck together until the end.

At this stage it’s too early to predict if Kass will one day find his name among some of ECU’s best. Too many games await and scores of passes remain to be thrown.

It’s also too soon to think that ECU’s second Lone Star stunner will springboard the Pirates into one of those memorable seasons that produces a championship banner.

Given the duress the Pirates have faced during their current three-game winning streak, you can bet this bunch isn’t looking past its next practice.

But after Kass’s redeeming performance Saturday, both the Pirates and their field general at least have a chance to be special.

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10/14/2007 04:56:34 AM

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