Pirates grind out win over Blue RaidersPublished 9:15pm Saturday, October 5, 2013
One week after winning a shootout with North Carolina, East Carolina taped on its boxing gloves and captured a knock-down-drag-’em-out victory over Middle Tennessee State, 24-17, on Saturday to move into sole possession of first place in the East Division of Conference USA.
“It was a fistfight,” East Carolina head coach Ruffin McNeill said. “… We knew it would be emotional coming in and that it would be a tough environment. (Middle Tennessee State coach Rick Stockstill) has been here eight years, he’s got his own kids and he’s got a great staff. He’s got a great football team. I’m really proud of our kids for fighting and grinding.”
After three quarters of trading haymakers, the Pirates landed the knockout blow when quarterback Shane Carden connected with Justin Hardy on a 21-yard touchdown pass that broke a 17-17 tie with 14:38 to go in the game.
From there, the Pirates defense, led by an 11-tackle game by safety Damon Magazu, who also had a key interception, held strong, while the offense milked the clock to hold on to the win.
Carden finished the game going 43 for 57 for 365 yards, while throwing and running for a touchdown.
“If you want to win a championship, you have to win tough road games,” Carden said. “We knew going in that it was going to be a very physical game. They’re a tough team. It’s a great win for us.”
Hardy led all receivers with eight receptions for 85 yards, while Davon Grayson added seven receptions for 66 yards.
The Pirates (4-1, 2-0) did not come out of the fight unscathed, as Vintavious Cooper, the team’s leading rusher, was forced to leave the game at the 3:51 mark in the first quarter after sustaining a concussion as a result of a hit by linebacker T.T. Barber.
Before he exited, Cooper made his mark on the contest as he rushed for a 1-yard touchdown on the team’s first drive of the game.
Cooper finished the game with six carries for 25 yards.
Running back Chris Hairston picked up the slack for Cooper as he
used 18 carries to pick up a game-high 94 yards.
For the fifth straight contest, the Pirates scored on their opening drive as they marched 75 yards down the field to take a 7-0 lead at the 12:30 mark.
Washington High School alum Jimmy Williams had a key 21-yard third down reception to extend the drive.
Williams had three catches for 38 yards before leaving in the third quarter with what appeared to be a leg injury.
The Blue Raiders (3-3, 1-1) responded with 10 unanswered points as a 1-yard TD run by Jeremiah Bryson completed a 75-yard drive on the ensuing possession, and was followed by a Cody Clark 22-yard field goal.
The Pirates, playing for the first time all year outside of North Carolina, responded with a 10-point rally of their own as Carden scored on a 1-yard read-option run midway through the second to go ahead 14-10 and Warren Harvey drilled a 25-yard field goal early in the third to go up 17-10.
MTSU kept throwing punches and landed a stiff blow when QB Logan Kilgore lasered a 26-yard TD pass to Tavarres Jefferson to tie the game up at 17 with :03 left in the third.
The lead would not last long as Hardy scored his game-clinching touchdown early in the fourth to recapture the advantage.