Harris, Freeney help Pirates burn Blazers|ECU controls its postseason destiny

Published 5:53 am Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sports Writer

GREENVILLE — East Carolina took a giant step towards a second straight appearance in the Conference USA championship game as the Pirates rolled over UAB, 37-21, on Saturday.
The C-USA-East leading Pirates (7-4, 6-1) held a one-game lead over the Blazers (5-6, 4-3) and Southern Miss (6-4, 4-2) heading into today’s contest, but thanks to a three-touchdown effort by Dwayne Harris the reigning conference champs have widened that margin.
With C-USA-West leader SMU (6-5, 5-2) falling to Marshall, the Pirates can host the conference title game if they win next Saturday against the Golden Eagles.
Harris, along with a resilient effort by the defense which kept UAB’s dynamic, mobile quarterback, Joe Webb, from taking over the game, allowed ECU to maintain control over its own postseason destiny.
Webb ran 25 times for 164 yards and hit on 19 of his 27 pass attempts for 247 yards, one touchdown and one interception, but his Blazers never held a lead over the Pirates.
Led by DE Scotty Robinson (11 tackles), East Carolina’s defensive line harassed Webb for large portions of the game as the Pirates sacked the elusive Webb four times.
“It was the ultimate bend-but-don’t break game,” ECU head coach Skip Holtz said. “When you look at the stat sheet you say, ‘how in the world do you win that football game?’ But when you look at what this team did, they did the things you have to do to win a football game.”
While the ECU defense kept points of the board, Harris was putting them up as he caught eight passes for 108 yards and two scores and returned a kickoff 99 yards to lead the offense.
The junior wide receiver’s eight receptions gives him 146 for his career and places him second on the Pirates’ all-time list, skipping ahead of NFL wideouts Aundrae Allison (145) and Terrance Copper (139). Harris needs only seven more catches to take the No. 1 spot held by Jason Nichols (152).
Quarterback Patrick Pinkney had one of his most efficient performances of the season as he hit on 20 of his 25 pass attempts for 250 yards and three scores. Pinkney also concluded his second-straight game without an interception to give ECU its first turnover-free game of the year.
Kicker Ben Hartman added field goals of 30-,37,25-yards, respectively to help ECU when its drives stalled out.
Sophomore WR Darryl Freeney continued to provide the big plays that Holtz has been desperately searching for as he caught seven passes for 118 yards, 59 of those yards coming on a TD pass in the third quarter that gave ECU a 30-6 advantage.
Freeney also made two key blocks for Harris on one play, as the electric wideout caught a screen pass from Pinkney and darted down field for his own 59-yard TD reception for his second touchdown of the first quarter.
“(Harris) is just a special player, we have to continue to find a way to get the ball in his hands,” Holtz said. “But having Freeney step up and do the things that he is doing and emerge is helping Dwayne. I think having two play-makers like that on the perimeter really give you some weapons.”
If East Carolina can get back to the C-USA title game and repeat as champions it would be in line to make a second consecutive appearance in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl (which has ties to the SEC). However, if the Pirates were to lose in the conference title game they would likely play in the Sheraton Hawai’i Bowl, which is affiliated with the Western Athletic Conference.
The Pirates defense stood tall all day long and seemed to have a knack for stepping up at the right moments.
ECU blocked a Josh Zahn field goal attempts early in the game, and closed the door on UAB when it pieced together a long drive right before halftime.
After Ben Hartman’s second field goal of the second quarter made it a 20-3 ballgame, Webb drove his team down the field in an attempt to answer.
The QB got his team down inside the ECU 35-yard line, but would not get any closer as safety Van Eskridge picked off his pass at the 2-yard line and returned it 90 yards to the UAB eight with four seconds left on the clock. The long return set up Hartman for 25-yard field goal as time expired to give ECU a 23-3 halftime lead.
Webb was the Blazers only weapon as no receiver had more than three catches and no other player had more than 50 rushing yards.
The Pirates defensive line played a crucial role in their win as they ganged up on Webb all day. If the first player missed, there was always another defender ready to take a shot at the UAB QB.
“Webb is a lot like (Jarrett) Brown from West Virginia, but we got to him,” Holtz said. “Yea he is going to make you miss, but we didn’t get up and we kept chasing him. … I thought the defensive line did a really nice job of getting some pressure on him.”
UAB 3 0 3 15 — 21
East Carolina 14 9 7 7 — 37
First Quarter
ECU—Harris 23 pass from Pinkney (Hartman kick), 13:46.
UAB—FG Zahn 27, 7:59.
ECU—Harris 59 pass from Pinkney (Hartman kick), 2:15.
Second Quarter
ECU—FG Hartman 30, 12:07.
ECU—FG Hartman 37, 1:27.
ECU—FG Hartman 25, :00.
Third Quarter
UAB—FG Zahn 33, 4:20.
ECU—Freeney 59 pass from Pinkney (Hartman kick), 3:20.
Fourth Quarter
UAB—R.Slaughter 16 pass from J.Webb (J.Webb run), 14:54.
ECU—Harris 99 kickoff return (Hartman kick), 14:39.
UAB—Forrest 9 pass from J.Webb (Zahn kick), 3:13.
First downs 24 14
Rushes-yards 49-273 24-75
Passing 247 250
Comp-Att-Int 19-27-1 20-26-0
Return Yards 0 89
Punts-Avg. 1-43.0 3-51.7
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 1-0
Penalties-Yards 3-26 4-25
Time of Possession 35:34 24:26
RUSHING—UAB, J.Webb 25-132, R.Slaughter 11-46, Isabelle 3-40, Barnett 5-33, Adams 1-10, Ferrell 1-8, Brooks 3-4. East Carolina, Lindsay 18-45, Dodge 1-19, G.Ruffin 5-11.
PASSING—UAB, J.Webb 19-27-1-247. East Carolina, Pinkney 20-25-0-250, Harris 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING—UAB, Forrest 3-59, Carter 3-54, Adams 3-32, Anderson 3-26, J.Harris 3-20, Ferrell 2-35, R.Slaughter 1-16, Jones 1-5. East Carolina, Harris 8-108, Freeney 7-118, Taylor 3-21, Lindsay 2-3.