Pirates ride Green Wave to victory
By By KEVIN TRAVIS, Sports Editor
GREENVILLE — East Carolina did its part. Unfortunately for the Pirates, UTEP didn’t.
The Pirates closed the regular season on a sunny, chilly Saturday afternoon in front of 35,362 fans at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium with a convincing 35-12 victory over the Tulane Green Wave. While the victory gave the Pirates (7-5, 6-2) a school-best sixth win in Conference USA play, their upset loss at the hands of Marshall two weeks ago came back to bite them.
The bowl-bound Pirates needed to beat the Green Wave (4-8, 3-5) and have UTEP upset Central Florida (9-3, 7-1) in order to win the C-USA East Division, which would have put ECU in the conference championship game. ECU, which honored its 17 seniors prior to the game, did what it needed to in the equation. However, UCF took a 36-20 victory over the Miners (4-8, 2-6) to claim the C-USA East title.
UCF will play Tulsa for the C-USA championship.
The Pirates will now turn their attention to their second bowl game in as many years. They just don’t know where they’ll be going or who they’ll play.
The likely scenario would send the Pirates to the Hawaii Bowl on Dec. 23, though nothing is definite.
Senior running back Chris Johnson ran for 155 yards and two scores on 27 carries, while adding 85 yards and another score on four receptions to lead the Pirates.
ECU starting quarterback Rob Kass hit 12 of 18 passes for 177 yards. The sophomore matched a career-high with three touchdown passes, hitting Johnson, Jamar Bryant and Dominique Lindsay.
The banged-up Pirate defense had to contend with the nation’s leading rusher in Matt Forte, who entered the contest with 2,007 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns. The defense, led by J.J. Milbrook, Pierre Bell and Van Eskridge with eight tackles apiece, pretty much held Forte in check.
The Tulane senior ran for 120 yards and a score, with 94 of those yards coming in the first half.
Forte ran for 59 yards on five plays during Tulane’s opening possession, including a 26-yard burst. That set up Ross Thevenot’s 40-yard field goal, which gave the Green Wave a 3-0 lead.
That would be Tulane’s last lead of the game.
The Pirates answered thanks in large part to the arm of Kass. The sophomore tossed a 6-yard scoring strike to Lindsay, who was wide open in the end zone. The score, which gave ECU a 7-3 lead, was set up by completions of 39 yards to senior Steven Rogers and 14 yards to tight end Davon Drew.
It was Kass’ first touchdown pass in four games.
Tulane pulled within 7-6 on Thevenot’s second field goal, a 35-yarder.
Johnson gave the Pirates a little breathing room. He dashed to the left side on a sweep, then tip-toed along the sideline for a 5-yard touchdown run to put the Pirates up 14-6. Johnson’s score was set up by a 28-yard reception and a 14-yard run by the senior running back.
The Pirates were able to capitalize on Linval Joseph’s fumble recovery near midfield with just over a minute to play in the half. Kass, who hit Phillip Henry with a 19-yard completion one play earlier, lofted a beautiful 25-yard scoring toss into the arms of Bryant for a 21-6 cushion.
Johnson’s second touchdown run of the day and the 41st of his career, a 7-yarder on the first play of the fourth quarter, gave ECU a 27-6 advantage.
Ben Hartman’s 53rd consecutive PAT, a school record, pushed the lead to 28-6.
Forte scored on a 3-yard run with just under four minutes to play to make it 28-12.
Johnson’s third score of the game, which gave him 252 total points to move him into second place behind Kevin Miller (287) on the all-time scoring list, capped the scoring. The senior took a pass from Kass and rumbled 33 yards to the end zone.
It was a fitting way for Johnson and the Pirates to cap their home season.
The Pirates will now await to hear their bowl opponent and destination.