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Insights and Observations

Henry's Highlights
Wednesday, November 22, 2006

By Henry Hinton

Priorities diverge for Pirates, Pack

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As the Pirates head into their regular-season finale against in-state rival N.C. State, it is totally possible that they have already accomplished more than the so-called experts thought possible. That will not matter Saturday.

Has this team really overachieved? Expectations have continued to rise through the season, particularly during the four-game win streak that ended this past Saturday in Rice Stadium.

At the beginning of the season, the national pundits were picking East Carolina to win fewer games than last season. In fact, national magazine writer Phil Steele said the Pirates would be better but would not be able to match last year’s win total of five games due to a much more difficult schedule.

A week ago, an eight-win season seemed entirely possible. The one-point loss at Rice was costly in many ways. Not only did it take the Pirates’ destiny out of their own hands, it also took away the momentum of a seemingly runaway train.

More about their destiny in a moment.

How the Pirate players respond to the difficult loss is anyone’s guess. However, it is the job of Skip Holtz and his staff to make sure the hangover doesn’t last past Thanksgiving Day.

Games with N.C. State have been difficult to get. ECU needs to take advantage of them when they come. This game has some interesting parallels to the 1999 game with the Wolfpack in Dowdy-Ficklen, the first one ever played between the two teams in Greenville.

The ECU program was riding high that year and the ‘Pack was struggling. The 23-6 Pirate victory was the final nail in the coffin for NCSU Coach Mike O’Cain.

See what I mean?

While N.C. State Director of Athletics Lee Fowler has said constantly this season that Chuck Amato is not on the “hot seat,” there are many in Raleigh who would question how that could be possible.

ESPN commentator Mark May stated on the air mid-season that Amato was in trouble at N.C. State and then received a personal phone call from Fowler to set him straight. May reported the next week that he had received bad information and Fowler had assured him that Amato would return next season.

For the record, Fowler has made no public comment on Amato’s status since the Wolfpack’s loss at Chapel Hill last weekend.

N.C. State officials warned the media that Amato would take no “speculative” questions at his press conference on Monday and that if any were asked he would end the session immediately.

A reporter from the campus newspaper decided to push the envelope and asked Amato how he felt about those who thought he should be fired. The head coach then walked away from the microphone and headed for the door. He did stop and wish everyone a "Happy Thanksgiving" before his exit. Nice touch.

Does N.C. State have more talent than the Pirates? There are those who would argue that this game comes years after the “BCS Divide” started in college football. Then there are those who argue that the Wolfpack’s talent level is below where it should be.

East Carolina has everything to play for and — short of trying to save their coach — the Pack has nothing, other than pride. The Pirates are bowl-eligible but assured of nothing at this point. A seventh victory should ensure that ECU will fill one of Conference USA’s bowl spots. A loss in Raleigh could end the season.

Additionally, the Pirates could still play for the conference title and a chance to go to The Liberty Bowl.

Holtz joked that he may wear a green undershirt during this game. That is a reference to the fact that Pirates will become Marshall fans on Saturday.

A Thundering Herd win over Southern Miss in Hattiesburg would put ECU in the league’s championship game next Friday, Dec. 1, against The University of Houston.

Yes, we too are Marshall. At least for this week.

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

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