Pirates looking to beat the odds

Published 11:13 pm Saturday, September 8, 2007

By By PETER WILLIAMS, Staff Writer
GREENVILLE — The last and only time an East Carolina University football team beat the Tar Heels, Pirate head coach Skip Holtz was 11 years old. His players today weren’t even born.
The year was 1975.
Holtz hopes to write a new chapter to the book today when the Pirates host the Heels in a 6 p.m. game at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. A win would be the first time ever that ECU has defeated Carolina in football in Greenville.
The losing streak against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill surpasses any other on the Pirates’ football schedule this year. The Pirates have managed to beat even top teams like West Virginia and Virginia Tech in the 1990s. This decade they’ve beaten eight other teams on the current schedule. But ECU’s win over Carolina dates back to the fall of South Vietnam and an attempt on then President Gerald Ford’s life.
The series between the Pirates and the Tar Heels took a 20-year rest after the Heels beat ECU 56-0 in 1981 in Chapel Hill. When they met again in 2001, Carolina managed a 24-21 win in Greenville. Two years later, they beat the Pirates 28-17 in Chapel Hill.
But neither Holtz nor UNC coach Butch Davis were coaching the teams back then.
Davis is coming off a 37-14 victory over James Madison. While not a top NCAA school, the Dukes had a 9-3 season last year against teams like William &Mary, ASU and Towson. Holtz is coming off a loss to ninth-ranked Virginia Tech.
Penalties hurt ECU against the Hokies, but Holtz understands how some of that can happen. The flags flew against ECU 12 times in the season opener. That alarms Holtz, but playing in the noise of Lane Stadium didn’t help.
For some on the Tar Heel coaching staff, today’s game will be something of a homecoming.
Pagano coached defensive backs at ECU in 1989, then took a stint at UNLV before returning to Greenville to coach defensive backs and outside linebackers from 1992 through 1994. More recently he was a member of Davis’ previous staffs in Miami and Cleveland, and comes to Chapel Hill after serving two seasons as the Oakland Raiders’ defensive backs coach.
Connors went to North Carolina after spending 10 seasons as East Carolina’s director of strength and conditioning. Under Connors, the Pirates were one of the best fourth-quarter teams in the country. In 1996, the ECU defense did not allow a point in the fourth quarter until the seventh game of the season and in 1999, the Pirates outscored their opponents, 102-56, in the final period.
Holtz is happy the Pirates are playing at home.