Pirates slay another giant; ECU defense stands ‘Pat’

Published 9:26 pm Sunday, September 7, 2008

By Staff
By STEVE FRANKLIN, Sports Writer
GREENVILLE - The Pirates continue to shock the college football world.
On Saturday, East Carolina turned in its most impressive victory to date, using a stout defense and efficient offense to manhandle No. 8 ranked West Virginia, 24-3 at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
The win over the No. 8 Mountaineers is the biggest in school history and marks only the second time that ECU has ever beaten a top-10 opponent - the only other time was in 1999, when they upended No. 9 Miami.
“I don’t think you can put it into words,” Coach Skip Holtz said. “I am so proud of our players for the way they have come out and competed the last two weeks. We played two elite programs and I am just so proud of the way our team has grown. Every facet of our team, from the defense, to the offense, to the special teams, was fantastic tonight.”
The Pirates set the tone from the onset as they took the opening kickoff and marched 80 yards in 11 plays to get on the scoreboard first.
After a couple big runs from running backs Brandon Simmons and Norman Whitley, the Pirates struck for the first big play of the game.
Facing a third-and-nine from the West Virginia 42 yard line, quarterback Patrick Pinkney found Jamar Bryant open deep along the right sideline for a 35-yard gain down to the Mountaineers’
Two plays later, Jonathan Williams punched it in from five yards out to give East Carolina a 7-0 lead with 8:58 remaining in the opening quarter.
On the Mountaineers’ opening drive, it was the Pirates’ defenses time to shine.
With West Virginia driving down field into Pirates’ territory, WVU star quarterback Pat White made a crucial mistake. The Mountaineers’ quarterback attempted to stretch for a first down at the ECU 33 yard line, but laid the ball on the turf after being struck by Pierre Bell, and Pirates’ defensive tackle Jay Ross was there to pounce on the ball
After a defensive stop by both teams, the Pirates got on the board once again early in the second quarter as kicker Ben Ryan banged the ball through the uprights for his first career field to make it 10-0 in favor of ECU.
Minutes later, the Mountaineers responded with a 10-play 68-yard drive that ended with a 26-yard field goal by Pat McAfee to cut ECU’s lead to 10-3.
The Pirates had a chance to add to their lead with less than two minutes remaining in the half, but Ryan misfired on a 43-yard field goal.
Just when it looked like momentum was starting to swing into West Virginia’s favor, the Pirates’ defense stepped up and made a play.
Two plays after the missed field goal, White found Jock Sanders on a crossing route. The Mountaineers’ wide out attempted to maneuver up field, but was popped by Van Eskridge, forcing a fumble that was pounced on by ECU’s Marcus Hands at the West Virginia 35 yard line.
“That was a big play by our defense,” Holtz said. “They were in their two minute offense and looking to put some points on the board. Van came up and jarred the football loose and we got the ball back with a chance to put some points on the board before halftime.
The Pirates did just that.
After Pinkney and Alex Taylor hooked up on a 22-yard pass play on the drive’s second play, the duo connected again on the very next play as Pinkney lofted a floater into the right corner of the end zone in a perfect spot for the 6’5” Taylor to out-leap the defender. Taylor’s first career touchdown catch with 47 seconds left in the half gave ECU a 17-3 halftime lead.
“We’d been teasing Alex for a while about being 6’5” and not getting into the end zone yet,” Pinkney said. “He just out-jumped the guy for the ball. He made a great play.”
After another stop by the stingy East Carolina defense to open the second half, the Pirates’ offense delivered yet again.
The Pirates took their opening possession of the second half and drove 86 yards on 12 plays.
Pinkney completed three passes of over 10 yards on the drive - two to T.J. Lee (26 and 12 yards) and one to Brandon Simmons for 14 yards - to get East Carolina down to the WVU 22-yard line.
From there, Williams took over. The Pirates’ sophomore running back carried on three consecutive plays, the last of which resulted in a one-yard touchdown run to give ECU a 24-3 advantage midway through the third quarter.
With West Virginia on the ropes, the East Carolina defense finished the Mountaineers. East Carolina’s defense didn’t allow the potent WVU offense into the red zone the entire second half.
“Pat White is a great quarterback and we knew we had to stop him for us to be successful,” said C.J. Wilson, who recorded 1.5 sacks. “Our game plan was to try to contain him and we did that. It was a total team effort today.”
After receiving a 48-7 beat down by West Virginia a year ago, in which they allowed 599 yards of total offense, the Pirates’ defense was motivated this time.
East Carolina limited West Virginia to 251 yards of total offense and held them to just three third down conversions in 12 attempts.
“They did a good job of shutting us down on third down,” Mountaineers’ coach Bill Stewart said. “The stats don’t lie. We converted 25 percent of our (third down) chances and East Carolina converted 50 percent of theirs.”
The defense also held White - a Heisman Trophy hopeful - in check.
White completed just 11 passes for 72 yards and was limited to 97 rushing yards on 20 carries.
On the other side of the field, Pinkney was once again brilliant in leading East Carolina past their third straight ranked opponent. The ECU signal caller completed 22-of-28 passes for 236 yards and a touchdown.
The rushing duo of Williams and Simmons also had a terrific evening, gashing the Mountaineers’ defense for a combined 119 rushing yards.
“It was a great effort by the whole team,” said Dwayne Harris, who had a team-best eight receptions for 68 yards. “The offense, the defense, everyone played their hearts out. Take nothing away from West Virginia, but we believed we were the better team coming in here today and we showed it.”
The Pirates, 2-0 for the first time since 1999, will look to keep their record unblemished next week when they travel to New Orleans to take on Tulane.
Pirates shutdown WVU passing game
By BRIAN HAINES, Sports Writer
GREENVILLE - Tropical storm Hannah never made an impact on the East Carolina-West Virginia game, but the Pirates defense did as it kept the No. 8 Mountaineers out of the end zone all day Saturday in their stunning 24-3 win.
What a difference a year makes.
Last season the Pirates surrendered nearly 600 yards of total offense in its 48-7 loss to WVU.
On Saturday, the Pirates defense dominated the Pat White-led Mountaineers, limiting them to 251 total yards.
White torched the East Carolina defense in the team’s 2007 match up, as he was 18-20 for 181 passing yards and two Tds.
The Pirates would have none of that this time around, as their defense played flawlessly, sacking White three times and holding him to 72 passing yards.
Northside alum and Pirates’ defensive end C.J. Wilson finished the game with five tackles and 1.5 sacks and said the key to success was to just keep it simple.
“We played as a unit, we played as one,” Wilson said. “We kept our enthusiasm. The coaches kept saying just fight and play your game … We basically just ran our base defense the whole game.”
Pirates coach Skip Holtz said that White is a savvy quarterback, and that creating a scheme to keep him down would be nearly impossible. Instead, Holtz opted to just have his team play its game, and hope that it would be good enough.
“I told them early in the week that I don’t think we can scheme this team,” Holtz said. “I mean Pat White has seen it all. I mean what are you going to give him a coverage he hasn’t seen in the last three years … You’re are not going to out-scheme him, so lets just make sure we know where we are. We wanted to play fast and physical on defense.”
Cornerback Van Eskridge played both fast and physical as he led the Pirates with 10 tackles. The junior said the team was able to contain the Mountaineers by having all 11 players swarming to the ball.
“We knew coming into the game that we were going to have to stop those little bubble screens and really limit their yards after the catch,” Eskridge said. “Basically we had 11 guys coming to the football.”
The Pirates’ defense stood tall in big spots as West Virginia converted on only three out of 12 first down attempts.
“They did a good job of shutting us down on third down,” West Virginia coach Bill Stewart said. “The stats don’t lie. We converted on 25 percent of our chances while East Carolina converted 50 percent.”
Van Eskridge came up with a critical forced fumble late in the second half, which helped East Carolina gain the ball and some momentum going into the break.
With ECU up 10-3, Pirates’ kicker Ben Ryan missed a 43-yard field goal attempt, giving West Virginia the ball back on the their own 26-yard-line with 1:30 left in the second quarter.
Eskridge would give the Pirates’ offense a shot at redemption, when he stripped Mountaineers’ wideout Jock Sanders after he caught the ball on a nine-yard crossing route.
Defensive end Marcus Hands recovered the ball on the WVU 35, and two plays later the Pirates scored on a James Pinkney 13-yard TD pass to Alex Taylor.
“I seen the guy (Sanders) coming across, I think it was Dekota Marshall who broke on the ball and hit him,” Eskridge said. “He had him held up, and I seen the ball hanging out so I just had my hand on it and I was raking it and raking it till it came out.”
The Pirates forced three fumbles on the day and recovered two of them. Linebacker Pierre Bell accounted for the first WVU fumble, and came up with six tackles.
Bell and the rest of the linebacker unit did a nice job containing White, highly touted sophomore Noel Devine and the Mountaineers’ ground game to 215 rushing yards, but where the unit made its mark was in pass defense.
Bell, Quinton Cotton and Nick Johnson each did a tremendous job in their pass coverage. The trio played zone on a majority of snaps, and each executed their assignments brilliantly.
Bell refused to take credit for the East Carolina domination on defense, and passed the accolades on to the defensive line.
“Our D-line man, they are amazing,” Bell said. “They made it easy for everybody else the way they got penetration … The D-line just kept getting penetration and was flushing (White) out, like I said. They made it easy.”
The Pirates hope it will be that easy next week, when they battle Conference USA Tulane on the road.
West Virginia 0 3 0 0 — 3
East Carolina 7 10 7 0 — 24
First Quarter
ECU—Williams 5 run (Ryan kick), 8:58.
Second Quarter
ECU—FG Ryan 42, 9:14.
WVU—FG McAfee 26, 4:55.
ECU—Taylor 13 pass from Pinkney (Ryan kick), :47.
Third Quarter
ECU—Williams 1 run (Ryan kick), 6:05.
First downs 12 20
Rushes-yards 36-179 42-143
Passing 72 243
Comp-Att-Int 11-18-0 23-29-0
Return Yards 9 0
Punts-Avg. 5-45.0 4-41.0
Fumbles-Lost 3-2 0-0
Penalties-Yards 4-36 9-60
Time of Possession 24:19 35:41
RUSHING—West Virginia, P.White 20-97, Devine 12-94, Brown 1-8, Rodgers 1-0, Team 2-(minus 20). East Carolina, Williams 17-69, B.Simmons 16-50, Whitley 3-19, Harris 2-6, Pinkney 4-(minus 1).
PASSING—West Virginia, P.White 11-18-0-72. East Carolina, Pinkney 22-28-0-236, Kass 1-1-0-7.
RECEIVING—West Virginia, Sanders 3-20, Devine 3-9, Starks 2-24, Gonzales 2-17, Jalloh 1-2. East Carolina, Harris 8-68, J.Bryant 4-66, B.Simmons 4-27, Taylor 3-41, Lee 2-39, Williams 2-2.