Youngsters keep ECU alive in C-USA race

Published 8:11 am Tuesday, November 4, 2008

By Staff
Commentary by STEVE FRANKLIN, Sports Writer
In the two weeks leading up to East Carolina’s bout with Central Florida, Pirates’ coach Skip Holtz said that the younger guys would be thrown into the fire, and that ECU’s success would depend on how well they could handle the challenge.
Well, redshirt freshman cornerback Emanuel Davis and sophomore running back Norman Whitley answered the bell, keeping East Carolina’s hope for a Conference USA title alive.
With a loss to Central Florida on Sunday night, the Pirates’ chances of winning Conference USA’s East Division would have greatly diminished.
But thanks to the play of Whitley and Davis, ECU sits atop of C-USA’s East Division along with Marshall, which visits Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Saturday.
The Golden Knights raced out to a 10-0 halftime lead as ECU’s defense gave up a 54-yard scoring pass from UCF quarterback Michael Greco to Jamar Newsome with 1:40 left in the opening half.
The Pirates’ offense was woeful in the opening half as ECU managed just 104 total yards in the first 30 minutes. On the only two drives that East Carolina could muster any offense at all — a seven-play, 31-yard drive in the first quarter, and a six-play 29-yard drive in the second — field goal kicker Ben Hartman let the Pirates down, missing from 48 and 46 yards, respectively.
It appeared as if the Pirates’ hopes were slipping away.
But in the second half, Whitley and Davis came to the rescue.
Whitley carried the ball 19 times for 81 yards after the intermission, including the game-tying touchdown with 1:51 left in regulation.
Then it was Davis’ turn to steal the show.
The former Manteo High School star made what appeared to be the biggest play of his career as he stripped Greco of the football with 33 seconds left in the fourth quarter, and recovered the ball at the UCF 44-yard line.
But one play later, ECU junior quarterback Rob Kass made a bone-headed throw deep down the field that was intercepted by UCF’s Johnell Neal at the 21-yard line, nullifying Davis’ big play and sending the contest to overtime.
However, Davis would make sure he’d have an impact on this one.
On the first play of overtime, the reserve cornerback stepped in front of Greco’s pass attempt and came up with his second career interception.
After three runs by Whitley on their overtime possession, Hartman connected on a 39-yard field goal to give the Pirates a much-needed 13-10 victory.
Davis finished with a career-high six tackles to go with his forced fumble, fumble recovery and interception, while Whitley — making just his second career start — had a career-best 25 carries for 135 yards, also a career-high, to go with his touchdown plunge.
After countless injuries and the suspensions of star wide receiver Jamar Bryant and blossoming running back Jonathan Williams, Holtz and the Pirates needed a couple of young guys to step up.
Whitley and Davis did just that.
If East Carolina is playing in the Conference USA title game a month from now, it’s quite possible that everyone will look back and say, Davis and Whitley saved ECU’s season.