ECU's Wilson cherishes second crown|Defensive end kept pressure on Cougars

Published 8:36 am Sunday, December 6, 2009

By By KEVIN TRAVIS, Sports Editor
GREENVILLE — As thousands of fans descended on the field, surrounding and congratulating the East Carolina Pirates, C.J. Wilson stood in the middle of it all, a huge smile engulfing his face.
Wilson helped lead the Pirates (9-4) to their second straight Conference USA championship with a 38-32 win over the No. 18 Houston Cougars (10-3) at a wet Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Saturday.
“This is wonderful, man,” said Wilson in the middle of the field, moments after the Pirates hoisted the championship trophy and accepted a bid to the Jan. 2 Liberty Bowl.
“It’s a great feeling to win a conference championship, but to do it twice, it’s amazing. We’re happy about that.
“I just give all the glory to God. He helped us today.”
Wilson, the C-USA Preseason Defensive Player of the Year, finished with three tackles, including one tackle-for-loss, and two quarterback hurries. He and his fellow defensive linemen kept pressure on Houston quarterback Case Keenam, who put up ridiculous numbers (56 of 75 for 527 yards, five touchdowns), but was rushed multiple occasions and intercepted three times.
“Case is great quarterback,” said Wilson, his No. 95 jersey wet and muddy. “I was talking all game with him. We were smiling at each other because we go way back, but the defense took coach Hud’s (Greg Hudson) plan and played our hearts out. We were able to come out with the win.”
Keenum said Wilson and the other linemen gave the Cougars some fits.
“They did a good job of getting pressure with their front four and a good job of getting up field and pressuring the passer,” Keenam said. “We knew they were talented coming in and could do that. They played extremely well.”
Houston coach Kevin Sumlin said ECU’s defensive front played a key role in the victory.
“They were able to rush four guys,” Sumlin said. “They’re a big, veteran defensive line.
They were able to get their big guys going early. I think their ability to push the pocket and deny the run was a key in this game.”
Wilson, a former Northside High School star, who now has 56 tackles, 10.5 tackles-for-loss (40 yards), 5.5 sacks (19 yards in loss), 13 quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles, two blocked kicks and one fumble recovery this season, couldn’t have asked for a better finish to his playing days at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
“I couldn’t ask for anything better,” the affable 6-4, 280-pound Wilson said. “It was a great ending.”
Being able to celebrate with the fans was extra special to Wilson.
“We’re so thankful for them,” Wilson said. “They are very loyal. Even though the weather was bad, I knew we’d have a lot of fans. I’m grateful for that.”
Wilson and his defensive unit came up with the stop they needed in the final minute to secure the victory. When Van Eskridge picked off Keenam in the end zone, that sealed ECU’s victory.
“We knew we had to stop them,” Wilson said. “We had to get a sack, get pressure on the quarterback, get a pick, a turnover or anything. We just knew we had to stop them.”
Wilson, who has 27 sacks, 45.5 tackles-for-loss, 35 quarterback hurries and 191 tackles in his career, has one more college game to play. The Pirates make a return trip to the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, hoping for better results than last year’s loss to Kentucky.
“We’re looking forward to it,” Wilson said. “We’ll just go there and play hard. We’re thankful for this win, and we’re going to keep playing hard.”