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Insights and Observations

Henry's Highlights
Wednesday, October 25, 2006

By Henry Hinton

Pirates sailing into the teeth of the curse

The East Carolina-Southern Mississippi series has been a lopsided affair in recent years

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What is it about Southern Miss? If East Carolina has a nemesis the Golden Eagles are it. The Pirates have lost nine of the last ten games against USM.

Skip Holtz and company are hoping to break the jinx this week.

Perhaps it is no accident that ECU has to go to Hattiesburg within the same week as Halloween. If ever there was a hex put upon a team, Eagles’ coach Jeff Bowers has worked his magic on the Pirates time and time again.

Holtz pointed out in his weekly media conference on Monday that Southern Miss has defeated ECU by a combined score of 84-17 for the last two years. If that isn’t frightening, enough consider that the score for the last four games has been USM 146, ECU 45. Ouch!

That means the Golden Eagles have averaged scoring nearly 37 points per game in this series the last four years. Aren’t they known for their defense?

Plainly put, East Carolina usually plays awful in this game. Only the 2000 Mud Bowl Pirate win (14-9) stands in the way of the Pirates going O for a decade.

"I've never been to Southern Miss, but I heard it's a difficult place to play,” said Holtz on Monday. “I know the atmosphere and the type of football they play probably thrives on playing at home and the momentum. I know they draw really well as a crowd. It will be a very difficult environment for us to start our trip."

An understatement. There is something about the road trip that seems to create a malaise on teams that play in M.M. Roberts Stadium.

Is there something in the water at the Hattiesburg Holiday Inn, the only hotel in town big enough to house the visiting team?

There is hope. East Carolina played its most complete game of the season against Southern Methodist last Saturday and Southern Miss is not having a typical banner year. The Golden Eagles (4-3) are coming off a difficult 36-6 loss at Virginia Tech.

"I think East Carolina has really improved since a year ago,” Bower said in his weekly media conference on Monday. “They're a much better football team.”

Bower complimented Pirate quarterback James Pinkney and called Aundrae Allison a “big time player.” Of course, the coach is correct. Allison’s return sparked the ECU offense last week and the Pirates looked like they were clicking on all cylinders against the Mustangs.

Bower spoke to the importance of this game in relation to his teams’ season. “We're getting into a five-game stretch where you've got to play them all like the championship games. Five conference games, four within the East and one outside the East, but all conference games and all are very important."

Southern Miss has dominated the eastern division of Conference USA since the league's inception but has two narrow conference wins this season, 19-14 over Central Florida and 31-27 over Houston. The Golden Eagles also have a 20-6 loss to Tulsa.

Perhaps the most impressive win on their schedule is the 37-17 beating they gave N.C. State in mid-September.

For Holtz, it is the first road trip since Sept. 9, when ECU lost to UAB. Having five games in a row in Greenville may have seemed like a blessing, but now the Pirates must prove they can win on the road — something they have not done this year. The Pirates got two road wins last year, at SMU and Marshall.

"One of the things I didn't like about playing on the road the first two games of the season is all the inexperience you have,” Holtz said. “You would like to give them an opportunity to play at home where all the momentum is on your side and the crowd is on your side.”

The Pirates get another chance at growing up on Saturday, but everyone agrees that getting a win in Hattiesburg is a mammoth task.

If Skip Holtz is superstitious at all, he may want to try something to ward off the evil spirits that always help the Golden Eagles in this game. It’s all part of the Bower hex.

There are probably some witch doctors down in that part of Mississippi.

Try the ‘eye of noot,’ Coach.

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This page updated 04/21/08 07:05 PM.

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