Johnson has been ECU’s go-to-guy
By By KEVIN TRAVIS, Sports Editor
GREENVILLE — If a big play is needed, look to Chris Johnson
That seems to be East Carolina’s thought process. The Pirates certainly haven’t been disappointed with the results.
Johnson is coming off a record-setting game where he accounted for an ECU single-game record of 372 all-purpose yards, coming in a 52-38 win over UCF. The 5-11, 204-pound running back wracked up 194 return yards, 89 receiving yards and 89 rushing yards.
The soft-spoken Johnson, who was named the Conference USA Special Teams Player of the Week, also accounted for four touchdowns. He had a career-long-tying 96-yard kickoff return to start the second half, took a screen from Rob Kass and sped 72 yards for a score and added TD runs of 18 and 8 yards.
He’ll be looking for more of the same when the Pirates (3-3, 2-1) play the UTEP Miners (4-2, 2-0) on Saturday in El Paso, Texas. Johnson isn’t exactly looking forward to the four-hour, 1,905 mile plan trip.
The game between the two Conference USA division-leading teams will kick off at 9:05 p.m. in the Sun Bowl. The Pirates will be looking to stay in first place and win their third straight game.
Of course, a few touchdowns by Johnson wouldn’t hurt.
Johnson’s big-play ability is nothing new. He’s been scoring touchdowns and churning out yards at a record-setting pace.
Johnson, who holds the career school record in all-purpose yards (5,261 yards), kickoff return yards (2,239 yards) and touchdown catches by a running back (eight), is in select company. He’s one of just three players in major college football who leads his team in both rushing and receiving.
Johnson has accumulated 404 rushing yards on 92 carries, along with 291 receiving yards on 20 receptions.
Chad Hall of Air Force (327 rushing yards, 325 receiving yards) and Wake Forest’s Kenny Moore (245 rushing yards, 360 receiving yards) are the other two.
Johnson, who needs 37 yards rushing to reach the 2,000-yard mark for his career, is seventh all-time in receptions with 108. Two more catches will move Johnson ahead of LaMont Chappell (109 from 1996-99) into sixth place.
Jason Nichols holds the record with 152 receptions from 1994-97, followed by Aundrae Allison (145 from 2005-06), Terrance Copper (139 from 2000-03), Mitchell Galloway (131 from 1993-96) and Troy Smith (129 from 1995-98).
Johnson, who is third all-time in C-USA kickoff return yards behind Louisville’s Zek Parker (2,558) and John Eubanks of Southern Miss (2,321), has found the end zone 12 times this season. He has seven rushing scores, four receiving touchdowns and a TD on the kickoff return against the Knights.
The rushing and receiving touchdown totals are already career-bests for Johnson with still six regular-season games remaining.
Johnson, whose previous bests were six rushing scores in 2005 and two receiving touchdowns in both 2004 and 2005, has 32 touchdowns and 192 points in his career. The TD and point totals matches former ECU great Leonard Henry (1998-2001) for sixth on the all-time scoring list.
Another “routine” night for Johnson could help him pass Dave Alexander, who had 34 touchdowns and 204 points from 1963-65, Saturday against the Miners.
ECU kicker Kevin Miller (1999-2002) is the school’s all-time leading scorer with 287 points. Miller is followed by Jeff Heath (251 from 1982-85), Carlester Crumpler (222 from 1971-73) and Chad Holcomb (214 from 1993-96).