Lost opportunities for Pirates
By By KEVIN TRAVIS
GREENVILLE — Self-inflicted wounds seemed to hurt East Carolina at the most inopportune of times.
As a result, the Pirates lost 28-21 to the Southern Miss Golden Eagles in Saturday’s Conference USA opener in front of a deafening sold-out crowd at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
The Eagles (2-1, 1-0) used a methodical, yard-crunching, time-consuming drive in the late stages of the fourth quarter to score the winning touchdown. Taking over at its own 20 with 6:40 to play, Southern Miss drove 80 yards and ate up all but 32 seconds. USM quarterback Jeremy Young (18-of-28 for 237 yards with one touchdown and one interception) capped the drive with a 1-yard dive over center.
The Pirates (1-2, 0-1) were helpless in stopping the Eagles, who now own a 25-8 lead in the series.
Damion Fletcher (27 carries for 111 yards and a score) broke off a 19-yard run and Young hit Chris Johnson with a 16-yard strike during the game-winning drive.
The Pirates had one last chance at tying the game. Patrick Pinckney (20-of-33 for 203 yards with two touchdowns and one interception) had completions of 18 yards to Phillip Henry and 17 yards to Jamar Bryant, but it was too little, too late for the Pirates.
The Eagles were in control early, jumping out to a 14-0 halftime lead. The Pirates came out of the locker room and put up 21 points in the third quarter to take the lead. USM was able to score the tying and winning touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
The Eagles took advantage of a rare turnover by Pinkney to take a 7-0 lead. Southern Miss defensive back Eddie Hicks came up with an interception, the first of the season thrown by Pinkney. Tight end Shawn Nelson (3 catches for 62 yards) got behind ECU’s secondary for a 28-yard scoring strike from Young.
Nelson’s juggling 31-yard circus grab on the Eagles’ next drive keyed USM’s second score. His catch set up the Eagles at the ECU-2. Three plays later, Fletcher trotted into the end zone to give Southern Miss a 14-0 lead.
The Pirates saw their best chance at scoring come up wide when sophomore kicker Ben Hartman, who missed three field goals during last week’s win over North Carolina, was wide on a 27-yard attempt on ECU’s first possession.
Pinkney found his groove to start the second half. The junior, just 6-of-14 for 38 yards and an interception in the first half, completed 6-of-7 passes for 70 yards on the opening series of the third quarter. That included a 20-yard scoring strike to Dwayne Harris to pull the Pirates within 14-7.
Pinkney had completions of 15 yards to Johnson, 13 yards to Harris and 12 yards to Henry during the drive. Steven Rogers tight-roped the sideline and made a spectacular grab of a Pinkney dart for another ECU first down at the USM-10.
After Pinkney’s apparent 10-yard touchdown toss to Jamar Bryant was nullified by an ECU holding penalty, the ECU quarterback came back to hit Harris with the 20-yard touchdown, the first of Harris’ career.
ECU was back in business moments later following Cotton’s 16-yard interception return to the USM-1. Freshman defensive lineman Linval Joseph, who had six tackles and a fumble recovery, pressured Young into making the poor throw.
Two plays later, Dominique Lindsay plowed over from a yard out, tying the game at 14-14. It was Lindsay’s first rushing touchdown since November 2005.
Pinkney’s second TD toss of the third quarter, coming on ECU’s next series, gave the Pirates a 21-14 lead. The junior, who had an 18-yard completion to Henry and a 17-yard scramble, hit Johnson in the end zone with a 6-yard bullet. Johnson’s score gave him an ECU-record seven career touchdown receptions by a running back.
The Eagles responded with an 80-yard scoring march, highlight by Fletcher’s 48-yard reception. Young capped the drive with a 1-yard plunge, making it 21-21 with 14:36 to play.
The Pirates play at No. 4 West Virginia (3-0), a 27-10 winner over ECU last year, next Saturday at noon.
NEW MARK FOR PIRATES
GREENVILLE — ECU tailback Chris Johnson needed 120 yards to become ECU’s all-time leader in all-purpose yards.
He had 4,344 yards entering Saturday’s game. The senior got the record on a 15-yard reception in the second half, surpassing Anthony Collins (1977-80), who had held the record with 4,463 yards, on the record chart.
ECU quarterback Patrick Pinkney had his woes in the first half, which included his first interception of the season. He also had a couple of mental breakdowns. The junior tried to throw the ball twice on one possession. Pinkney’s first try was batted back to him. He caught the ball and then fired another pass downfield, which drew a flag.
Later in the half, Pinkney drew another flag when his throw came beyond the line of scrimmage, which is an illegal forward pass.
The junior quarterback was able to rebound in the second half.
Sophomore quarterback Brett Clay saw his first action since the Virginia Tech game, where he started and was pulled in the first half during a season-opening 17-7 loss. Clay’s last throw before the Southern Miss game was intercepted by Virginia Tech’s Victor Harris and returned 17 yards for a score.
It was a rough home debut for Clay. Entering late in the first half, Clay was sacked for a 12-yard loss on his first snap. On his second, Clay avoided another sack but was forced to throw the ball away.
Junior defensive lineman Khalif Mitchell was injured during the first half against the Golden Eagles. Mitchell, who injured an ankle, did not play in the second half.
Defensive back Darryl Reynolds was also injured in the first half and didn’t return for the second. The freshman suffered a hamstring injury.
East Carolina enjoyed its second straight sellout. There were 43,041 fans in attendance, which set a new record at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium for a Conference USA game.
The previous record was 41,372 fans, coming during ECU’s 33-20 win over Marshall on Nov. 11, 2006.
SOUTHERN MISS. 28, EAST CAROLINA 21
Southern Miss. 0 14 0 14 — 28
East Carolina 0 0 21 0 — 21
USM—Nelson 28 pass from J.Young (Estes kick), 12:27.
USM—D.Fletcher 2 run (Estes kick), 7:23.
ECU—Harris 20 pass from Pinkney (Hartman kick), 8:35.
ECU—Lindsay 1 run (Hartman kick), 7:32.
ECU—C.Johnson 6 pass from Pinkney (Hartman kick), 2:34.
USM—J.Young 1 run (Estes kick), 14:36.
USM—J.Young 1 run (Estes kick), :32.
First downs 21 21
Rushes-yards 43-146 37-97
Passing 237 203
Comp-Att-Int 18-28-1 20-35-1
Return Yards 32 34
Punts-Avg. 4-37.3 6-41.3
Fumbles-Lost 3-2 0-0
Penalties-Yards 2-16 9-55
Time of Possession 29:13 30:47