Pirates stymied by HokiesPublished 7:44pm Saturday, September 14, 2013
GREENVILLE — They kept trying to crank the engine, but in the end the Pirates Air Raid offense never got off the runway. A physical Virginia Tech defense kept ECU’s vaunted passing game grounded for the better part of four quarters and enabled the Hokies to overcome some critical special teams gaffs to pull out a 15-10 win over the Pirates on Saturday.
The East Carolina passing attack had racked up 649 yards and seven touchdowns in its first two games of the season, but on Saturday the Pirates where held to 204 yards of total offense, as they failed to pass the 10-point mark for the first time since 2008.
In a bit of a role reversal, the Pirates defense, minus starting inside linebackers linebackers Jeremy Grove and Kyle Tudor, was stout, holding the Hokies to 53 rushing yards, while picking off star QB Logan Thomas once.
However, Virginia Tech (2-1, ACC) ambushed Pirates (2-1, Conference USA) quarterback Shane Carden, racking up seven sacks and limiting him to 19 of 31 passing for 158 yards and one touchdown.
“They blitzed a bunch. More than what we had seen on film,” ECU coach Ruffin McNeill said. “… It comes down to execution. (Virginia Tech) did a good job of executing their blitzes.”
Carden had been nearly flawless during the first two games of the year, completing 79 percent of his passes without turning the ball over once. However, on Saturday Virginia Tech intercepted three of his passes and sacked him twice on ECU’s final possession of the game, with the last one leading to a safety with 1:31 remaining on the clock.
McNeill called for a review of the play, hoping it would be determined an incomplete, but the call was not reversed.
“The turnovers, that’s on me. I have to correct that,” Carden said. “We just knew that if we could get this thing going that we’d be alright. We would have a good couple of good plays and then we’d just have a weird play: a tipped ball or a couple of sacks that hurt us.”
The ECU running game, which resurfaced during its 31-13 win over Florida Atlantic last week, went back into hiding as it gained only 46 yards on 23 attempts.
The Pirates started off the game hot, flying 75 yards down the field only five plays to score a touchdown on their first possession of the game to take a 7-0 lead.
Carden connected with 6’6” sophomore wide receiver Bryce Williams on a 22-yard pass for the Marshall transfer’s first TD as a Pirate.
“It was just a slant route. The defender bit on the run and I just popped open and Shane saw me,” Williams said. “It was a great feeling to get my first touchdown, especially against a team like Virginia Tech.”
The Hokies answered on their second possession with a grinding 11-play 70-yard drive that ended when wide receiver Demetri Knowles beat corner Adonis Armstrong for a 30-yard TD pass along the right sideline.
Armstrong would get a small measure of revenge later in the game when he picked off a Thomas pass in the third quarter, but the Pirates could not capitalize on the extra possession.
Despite the fact that MLBs Zeek Bigger and Brandon Williams were making their first career starts, the ECU defense put forth a stellar outing.
The Pirates’ goal from the onset was to eliminate the Hokies run game and they did just that, holding them to 53 rushing yards on 34 attempts.
Williams and safety Damon Magazu racked up a game-high 12 tackles each, while Bigger added nine and a sack.
“I felt good about Zeek and Brandon stepping in,” McNeill said. “I think up front our defensive line did a good job of stopping the run. … I think it forced Virginia Tech to do some things they didn’t want to do. They threw the ball a little bit more than they normally do.”
The Pirates defense suffered a scare in the third when corner Joshua Hawkins appeared to take a knee to the head and had to be taking off the field on a stretcher. Hawkins, who waved his hands in the air to incite the crowd as he was being carted off, was taking to Vidant hospital where he would be further evaluated.
The Pirates reclaimed the lead midway through the third quarter when Warren Harvey booted a 44-yard field goal to up 10-7.
Thomas, whose ability to scramble was a huge concern, only rushed for nine yards, but completed 25 of his 43 attempts for 258 yards and two TDs. Just enough to overcome missed field goals of 38 and 40 yards and a shanked extra point by placekicker Cody Journell.
The Pirates broke a 7-7 tie midway through the third quarter when Warren Harvey booted a 44-yard field goal.
They would not take the lead into the fourth, as Thomas hit D.J. Coles on a three-yard play-action pass. Tech appeared to be headed for a 14-10 lead but Journell missed the extra point.
After a huge fourth-and-1 stop by the ECU defense on its own 10, the Pirates took possession of the ball with 2:04 left in the game. The Hokies sacked Carden on first down, pushing ECU back the 4-yard line and on the next play came up with the game-clinching safety