Pirates hold on to win C-USA opener|Defense comes up big for ECU

Published 8:17 pm Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sports Writer

GREENVILLE — With under a minute left to play in the fourth quarter East Carolina safety Van Eskridge intercepted a Brett Hodges’ pass, and as the senior nestled the ball into his hands, he also secured a Pirates’ 19-14 victory over the University of Central Florida in ECU’s Conference USA opener.
Holding on to the football was no small feat on Saturday, as the two defensive-minded squad’s combined for eight turnovers, in a low-scoring, yet thrilling contest.
The Pirates’ defense got after Hodges, sacking him four times while intercepting four passes to hand ECU its first conference win of the year.
“Our defense played great today,” ECU coach Skip Holtz said. “It really gave our offense great field position in the second half. Now we just have to begin putting the ball in the end zone.”
The Pirates struggled to punch the ball across the goal-line at times, ECU quarterback Patrick Pinkney hooked up with Dwayne Harris for a 3-yard touchdown pass with 7:55 left in the fourth quarter, giving them a score when they most needed it. With the TD, the 2008 C-USA champion Pirates (2-2, 1-0) jumped out to a 19-7 lead and appeared to have locked down a win over the 2007 Conference USA title-winning Knights (2-2, 0-2).
Harris made big play after big play and finished with 10 catches for 121 yards and a TD to spear-head the Pirates’ offense. The Pirates’ wide receiver also scored on a 25-yard scamper out of the wildcat formation for the team’s first TD of the game in the first quarter.
ECU had a chance to completely disarm the Knights when a Nick Johnson interception helped set up Ben Hartman for a 33-yard field goal attempt with a little over two minutes left in the game and the Pirates up 19-7. However Hartman, who had made two field goals up to that point, missed wide right.
Hodges (21-34 266), a transfer from Wake Forest, took the possession of the ball at the 20 led his team on a six play, 80–yard drive that ended with the senior firing a well-placed ball down and away to wide receiver Kamar Aiken for a 10-yard score to cut ECU’s lead to 19-14 with 1:06 left in the game.
After that, the 43,210 fans in attendance turned their eyes to UCF kicker Nick Cattoi, as he lined up for the ensuing on-side kick. With UCF holding no timeouts in their pocket, all the Pirates had to do was recover the kick to close out the game, but Cattoi booted a low line drive that bounced of ECU and into the hands of Alex Thompson at the Knights’ 33-yard line.
Hodges, who guided his team to a 16-point rally to top Buffalo last weekend, ran out of magic on Saturday as his final pass of the game was picked by Eskridge.
While not getting the offensive breakthrough that ECU fans have been looking for, the Pirates offense did make major strides as their 403 yard of total offense was nearly double their output (247 yards) from last weekend’s loss to No. 24 UNC.
Pinkney looked sharp at times, and finished the day hitting of 27 of 40 pass attempts for 293 yards, 1 TD pass and one pick. Pinkney would have easily eclipsed the 300-yard mark had he not been the victim of dropped passes.
“I thought Patrick had a pretty good game today,” Holtz said. “He was very poised in the pocket. This is the best game he has played this season in terms of managing the game.”
ECU’s rushing game saw increased production as Brandon Jackson galloped for 88 yards on 20 carries.
UCF 7 0 0 7 — 14
East Carolina 3 7 3 6 — 19
First Quarter
UCF—Harvey 19 run (Cattoi kick), 7:19.
ECU—FG Hartman 20, 4:42.
Second Quarter
ECU—Harris 25 run (Hartman kick), 14:15.
Third Quarter
ECU—FG Hartman 19, :51.
Fourth Quarter
ECU—Harris 3 pass from Pinkney (pass failed), 7:55.
UCF—Aiken 10 pass from Hodges (Cattoi kick), 1:06.
First downs 19 23
Rushes-yards 24-70 38-110
Passing 266 293
Comp-Att-Int 21-34-4 27-41-1
Return Yards 9 7
Punts-Avg. 2-37.0 3-34.0
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 5-2
Penalties-Yards 3-30 4-39
Time of Possession 24:29 35:31
RUSHING—UCF, Harvey 16-71, Kelly 1-18, Aiken 1-1, Weaver 1-1, Hodges 5-(minus 21). East Carolina, Jackson 20-88, Harris 3-27, G.Ruffin 8-11, J.Williams 2-0, Team 2-(minus 5), Pinkney 3-(minus 11).
PASSING—UCF, Hodges 21-34-4-266. East Carolina, Pinkney 27-40-1-293, Harris 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING—UCF, Guyton 9-119, Ross 5-56, Harvey 3-23, Aiken 2-50, Rabazinski 2-18. East Carolina, Harris 10-121, Taylor 6-58, Willis 2-34, Jackson 2-31, Womack 2-22, Bryant 2-3, Kass 1-13, G.Ruffin 1-6, Freeney 1-5.