Published 1:04 pm Saturday, November 29, 2008

By By STEVE FRANKLIN, Sports Writer
GREENVILLE - Brandon Simmons saved his best for last.
Playing in his final home game, the Pirates’ senior running back rushed for a career-high 111 yards on 27 carries and scored four touchdowns to lead East Carolina past UTEP, 53-21, in the regular season finale for both teams Friday at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
Simmons got the Pirates on the scoreboard early as he helped cap an 11-play, 70-yard drive by barreling into the end zone from 12 yards out on East Carolina’s opening possession to put ECU ahead, 7-0.
On the Miners’ next possession, the Pirates forced the game’s first turnover, as UTEP quarterback Trevor Vittatoe was intercepted by ECU’s Travis Simmons at the UTEP 46-yard line.
ECU took advantage of the Miners’ miscue, as senior quarterback Patrick Pinkney delivered a 32-yard scoring strike to a wide-open Darryl Freeney, giving the Pirates a 14-0 lead after the first quarter.
0002000005B4000005335AE,The Pirates extended the lead to 17-0 early in the second quarter on a 22-yard field goal by Ben Hartman.
Just when UTEP’s offense looked like it was beginning to muster some steam, the Pirates came up with their second interception of the contest midway through the second quarter, as Vittatoe’s pass bounced off the hands of wide receiver Donavon Kemp and landed in the hands of ECU linebacker Nick Johnson at the ECU 15-yard line.
Again, East Carolina capitalized on UTEP’s mistake.
ECU strung together an 8-play, 80-yard drive, highlighted by a 37-yard pass connection from Pinkney to Freeney, and took a 24-0 lead on Simmons’ second rushing touchdown of the day, this one a 4-yard score.
The high-scoring Miners, who averaged 34 points per game entering Friday’s contest, finally got on the scoreboard late in the first half as running back Terrell Jackson darted through the middle of the ECU defense for a 28-yard touchdown scamper to cut the lead to 24-7.
On the ensuing kickoff, the momentum shifted back to the Pirates as freshman wide receiver Michael Bowman returned the kickoff 61 yards down to the UTEP 39-yard line.
Facing a 4th-and-4 from the Miners’ 32, the Pirates elected to go for the first down, and Pinkney hooked up with Alex Taylor on a 22-yard pass down to UTEP’s 10. Two plays later, the Pirates extended their lead to 30-7, as Pinkney found Simmons for an eight-yard touchdown reception with 22 seconds left in the first half.
00020000064200000AE163C,Hartman, who has struggled recently (he had missed five of his last eight field goal attempts entering the contest), missed the first extra point of his career to keep the score 30-7 at the half. Hartman had made his previous 77 attempts.
Despite the missed PAT, Holtz was happy to head to the locker room with a 23-point lead.
On the opening drive of the second half, ECU went to the ground and pounded out a 12-play, 76-yard drive capped by Brandon Simmons’ third rushing touchdown of the day.
The Pirates ran the ball 11 times on the drive for all 76 yards. Simmons carried the ball eight times for 53 yards during the Pirates’ possession, including a two-yard scoring plunge to give ECU a 37-7 lead and blow the game wide open.
East Carolina would add three Ben Hartman field goals in the second half, and an Alex Taylor 40-yard kickoff return on an onside kick attempt by UTEP in the final minute.
The 53 points were a season-high for the Pirates. ECU’s previous best was 30 points in a win over Memphis on Oct. 18.
The Pirates also racked up a season-best 475 yards of total offense as they scored on nine of their 10 offensive possessions.
0002000005590000111D553,Pinkney completed 17-of-23 passes for 228 and two scores, while Freeney hauled in a career-best five receptions for 106 yards and a touchdown.
Defensively, the Pirates rattled the normally accurate Vittatoe. The UTEP quarterback entered Friday’s game having thrown for 30 touchdowns and just six interceptions, but was sacked four times on the day and threw a season-high three interceptions.
His only two touchdown passes of the game came after the Pirates had made it a rout.
Vittatoe threw for 313 yards on 23-of-41 passing, but was pressured most of the afternoon.
While the Miners (5-7, 4-4 in C-USA) ended their season with a loss for the 23rd consecutive year, the Pirates (8-4, 6-2) will await the results of tomorrow’s Rice and Houston game and the Tulsa versus Marshall game to find out who they will play in next weekend’s Conference USA championship tilt. If Houston wins they secure the West Division crown. A Rice win opens the door for Tulsa. But if both Houston and Tulsa lose, Rice gets the berth in the championship game.
00020000069A00001670694,“We want Houston,” said Pinkney with a grin, referring to the Pirates wanting to avenge an early season loss to the Cougars. “But we will go out and play whoever gets there and try to win us a conference championship.”
UTEP 0 7 7 7 — 21
East Carolina 14 16 10 13 — 53
First Quarter
ECU—B.Simmons 12 run (Hartman kick), 4:16.
ECU—Freeney 32 pass from Pinkney (Hartman kick), 1:14.
Second Quarter
ECU—FG Hartman 22, 9:39.
ECU—B.Simmons 6 run (Hartman kick), 4:24.
UTEP—Jackson 28 run (Martinez kick), 2:04.
ECU—B.Simmons 7 pass from Pinkney (kick failed), :22.
Third Quarter
ECU—B.Simmons 2 run (Hartman kick), 10:10.
ECU—FG Hartman 48, 2:59.
UTEP—Adams 50 pass from Vittatoe (Martinez kick), 1:52.
Fourth Quarter
ECU—FG Hartman 38, 10:33.
ECU—FG Hartman 33, 2:12.
UTEP—Ev.Davis 37 pass from Vittatoe (Martinez kick), :51.
ECU—Taylor 40 kickoff return (Hartman kick), :44.
First downs 16 26
Rushes-yards 15-57 53-231
Passing 313 244
Comp-Att-Int 23-41-3 19-28-0
Return Yards 0 60
Punts-Avg. 5-39.6 0-0.0
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 1-1
Penalties-Yards 10-79 4-41
Time of Possession 21:14 38:46
RUSHING—UTEP, Jackson 3-44, J.Thomas 3-13, Buckram 3-12, Vittatoe 6-(minus 12). East Carolina, B.Simmons 27-111, Whitley 12-77, Rogers 9-29, Kass 1-20, Gidrey 1-2, J.Simmons 1-0, Ballard 1-(minus 2), Sloan 1-(minus 6).
PASSING—UTEP, Vittatoe 23-41-3-313. East Carolina, Pinkney 17-23-0-228, Kass 2-5-0-16.
RECEIVING—UTEP, Adams 9-116, Kemp 3-39, Moturi 3-13, Ev.Davis 2-54, Jackson 2-23, J.Thomas 2-22, Hunter 1-26, Buckram 1-20. East Carolina, Freeney 5-106, Womack 4-39, Taylor 3-55, Drew 3-33, Rogers 3-4, B.Simmons 1-7.