Hokies looking for payback against the Pirates|Va. Tech seeks to avenge ’08 upset

Published 2:55 am Wednesday, November 4, 2009

By By BRIAN HAINES, Sports Writer
GREENVILLE — It’s been over a year since T.J. Lee blocked Brent Bowden’s punt and returned it 27 yards to secure one of the biggest wins in East Carolina football history.
Trailing 22-20 with less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter to then No. 17 Virginia Tech in the last year’s season opener, Lee made the play that will forever cement his position in Pirates’ lore.
The blocked punt and ensuing TD scamper not only launched ECU football into the national spotlight, but also ignited one of the Pirates best runs ever.
The following week East Carolina exorcised the demons of Pat White and the West Virginia offense when it mashed the No. 8 Mountaineers 24-3 and earned a No. 14 ranking two weeks later.
ECU could not sustain the ranking, but went on to win its first-ever Conference USA title and a trip to the Liberty Bowl.
The upset victories temporarily made the Pirates America’s Cinderella story. ECU was the little school slightly East of ACC Country that was beating the big boys.
When the bullies on the block weren’t looking, the Pirates came and knocked them off their feet.
That was last year.
This year the bullies are back and are angry.
This season the Pirates have not been overlooked or underestimated. So far this season East Carolina has had its faced pushed in the sand twice by the same bullies it blind-sided in recent seasons.
West Virginia got its payback in the second week of the season when it handed ECU its first loss of the year with a 35-20 win on Sept. 12.
The following week the No. 24 Tar Heels avenged its 2007 heartbreaking 34-31 loss to the Pirates when they rolled over ECU for a 31-17 victory.
The No. 22 Hokies (5-3, 3-2 ACC) will look to complete the payback trifecta on Thursday when they come to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium to take on the Pirates (kickoff at 7:30 p.m.)
Virginia Tech will not only be looking to exact revenge on ECU for its 2008 upset, but will also be playing with all the intensity that comes when a team with national title hopes losses two games in a row.
The Hokies, who were ranked No. 4 in the nation just 14 days ago, got stung by then No. 19 Georgia Tech as its triple-option attack racked up over 300 rushing yards in the Yellow Jackets’ 28-23 win.
After dropping ten spots to No. 14 in the AP poll, Virginia Tech got stunned by UNC Thursday night after the Tar Heels kicked a late field goal to win 20-17.
East Carolina coach Skip Holtz said regardless of what happened in previous weeks, the Pirates (5-3, 4-1) will prepare to face an intense Virginia Tech team.
“Coach (Frank) Beamer is a great coach. He has taken teams in after losses and he has taken teams in after wins, and each time he gets them ready to play each and every week,” Holtz said. “It’s a very proud program and I know they are going to come in here excited to play regardless of what happened last week. I’m sure they are talking about what happened last year and the things that happened last year. They are studying film and I’m sure they are going to come in here ready for a football game. There is no doubt about it.”
While the Hokies have hit a rut, the Pirates have been sailing the last two weeks. ECU’s offense woke up in its 49-13 win over Rice on Oct. 17. The offense sustained its revival with a 38-19 beat down of Memphis.
Those two wins marked the first and second time the ECU offense has scored over 30 points all year. Unfortunately, the offensive outburst came over teams that have a combined 2-13 record.
However, the Pirates head into this game on a high note and with an offense that feels confident.
“We know that we can put up points,” ECU’s sixth-year senior quarterback Patrick Pinkney said. “We got the talent and the right people in the right positions, and as long as we continue to believe in each other we can continue to play well.”
For Pinkney and the Pirates’ offense, the key will be to keep turnovers to a minimum. So far this season the senior quarterback has tossed eight interceptions in eight games. He must make better decisions and be more accurate for ECU to break a sturdy defense designed by one of the best minds in the game in Hokies’ defensive coordinator Bud Foster.
Last year Pinkney set an ECU completion percentage against the Hokies as he hit on 19 of 23 passes for 211 yards one TD and no picks.
Pinkney also led the Pirates on a 73-yard drive late in the fourth quarter to make it cut Tech’s lead to 22-20 with under four minutes left in the fourth quarter. Without that drive, Lee’s blocked punt doesn’t mean a thing.
Pinkney said they key to last year’s success was executing the fundamentals.
“We just protect the ball and took it one play at a time and not try to get it all in one play,” Pinkney said. “We were playing against a great defense, and that’s what we will try and do this year. It’s just one play at a time and have fun.”