Pirates light up the Knights

Published 5:09 am Sunday, October 7, 2007

By By KEVIN TRAVIS, Sports Editor
GREENVILLE - Chris Johnson, Rob Kass and East Carolina’s opportunisticdefense kept the 42,777 fans in attendance on their feet most of the
night.Johnson and the end zone grew quite familiar with one another Saturday night, as the senior tailback scored four times in ECU’s 52-38 victory over the Central Florida Knights at a packed Dowdy Ficklen Stadium. The sixth largest crowd in school history saw Johnson score twice on the ground, once through the air and once on a kickoff return.
It was the most touchdowns scored by a Pirate since Art Brown scored four times in a victory over Houston on Nov. 9, 2002.
Meanwhile, Kass made the most of his first career start. The ECU sophomore quarterback hit 12-of-23 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns. Kass added a touchdown run to match Johnson’s four touchdowns.
The defense, which rebounded beautifully after a lackluster first half, created five turnovers and the Pirates were able to capitalize off most of them. Leon Best, Travis Simmons and Khalif Mitchell had interceptions, while Dakota Marshall and Nick Johnson recovered fumbles.
The win for the Pirates (3-3, 2-1), their second straight, gave them the lead atop the Conference USA East standings.
It wasn’t easy for the Pirates, who had to play catch-up with the Knights (3-2, 1-1) and had to contend with Kevin Smith, whose 147 yards gave him a school-record fifth consecutive 100-yard game. Curtis Francis returned the opening kickoff 93 yards to put the Knights up 7-0.
Johnson’s touchdown run, set up his 47-yard kickoff return, tied things up. The Knights reclaimed the lead later in the first quarter with an 8-play, 86-yard drive. UCF capped the drive when Kyle Israel hit Kamar Aiken, who was wide open in the end zone after getting behind the secondary, with a 21-yard strike.
UCF went to the air again to build a 21-7 lead. Freshman wide receiver A.J. Guyton took a short slant from Israel, before proceeding to streak away from ECU defenders down the middle of the field for a 39-yard touchdown.
The Pirates used a career-long pass from Kass to pull within 21-14. The sophomore hit Johnson with a screen and the senior tailback did the rest, racing down the sideline and breaking one tackle at the 20 to complete a 72-yard scoring strike. But the Knights answered on a 1-yard plunge by Smith to give them a 28-14 advantage.
The Pirates gained some momentum heading into half time thanks to Ben Hartman’s 24-yard field goal, pulling ECU within 28-17. Johnson’s lightning-fast feet made it 28-24, taking the second-half kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown.
The Pirates took advantage of another UCF turnover to take their first lead of the game, coming at the 3:18 mark of the third quarter. One play after Johnson pounced on a fumble, freshman Dwayne Harris took a pitch and raced a career-long 40 yards into UCF territory. Kass followed that big play with his third touchdown pass of the game, zipping a 20-yard bullet to tight end Davon Drew in the end zone for a 38-31 lead.
Khalif Mitchell came up with an interception off a tipped ball by Quentin Cotton on the ensuing possession. The Pirates capitalized again as Johnson scored his fourth touchdown of the night, an 18-yard run that gave ECU a 45-31 advantage. Best’s interception, ECU’s fourth straight takeaway, led to a 7-yard touchdown run by Kass and a 52-31 lead.
Israel’s 3-yard run late in the fourth capped the scoring. Johnson finished his day with 194 kickoff return yards, 89 receiving yards and 89 rushing yards.
The Pirates will hit the road next week as they travel to UTEP. Kickoff is set for 9:05 p.m. ECU returns home Oct. 20 to face the N.C. State Wolfpack.