'Justin' time: Jones comes up big on final play|ECU's 6-8 WR grabs game-winner in Pirates' season opener

Published 2:32 pm Monday, September 6, 2010

By By BRIAN HAINES, Sports Writer
GREENVILLE – With a new-look, high-octane offense put in place this summer Pirates’ fans figured games would be more exciting this season, but it’s hard to imagine anybody had this in mind.
The Ruffin McNeill era got off to an extraordinary start on Sunday as the Pirates were able to take down Conference USA-West foe Tulsa on the final play of their season-opening game thanks to a 33-yard touchdown pass from newly anointed starting quarterback Dominique Davis to freshman Justin Jones which locked up a 51-49 victory.
McNeill, who took over at his alumni after Skip Holtz departed for South Florida in January, said he was happy with his team’s resiliency.
That play may have been the last of the game but it was a first for Jones, as the 6-8 freshman reached to the sky and pulled down his first-ever touchdown reception in his ECU debut. For Jones, the catch will always be memorable, just because only the night before it was unimaginable.
As advertised, the new-look East Carolina offense raced up and down the field and posted points routinely. Between East Carolina (1-0) and Tulsa (0-1) there was only one punt the entire second half. Dominique Davis, who beat out sophomore walk-on Brad Wornick after a summer-long battle for the starting quarterback job, looked solid in his debut. The junior transfer from Fort Scott Community College went 27-for-46 for 383 yards and five touchdown passes while throwing one interception.
Davis’ counterpart G.J. Kinne was just as effective as he came a yard short of 400 passing yards, while connecting on 28 of his 43 pass attempts for five touchdowns.
Kinne’s final TD pass, a three-yarder to Charles Clay with under two minutes left in the fourth, presented the game with its 13th lead change, but unfortunately for Tulsa there would be one more.
The Pirates received the ensuing kickoff down 49-45 with 1:22 left in the game and proceeded to march down field from their own 34-yard line. Davis, who found out he was starting over a week ago, maneuvered his way down field using his arm and legs to advance. Davis finished the game with 11 rushing attempts for 48 yards which included a two-yard TD run.
Davis hit wide receivers Lance Lewis and Dwayne Harris for 11 and 12-yard passing plays respectively, with the last pass to Harris giving ECU first-and-10 at the Hurricane 33. After three straight incomplete passes by Davis, he hit paydirt on his final attempt when he found Jones open on the right side of the end zone.
McNeill said that he wasn’t shocked that his team was able to score on the final play of the game.
While McNeill may not have been surprised, Tulsa coach Todd Graham was.
Lewis, a junior transfer, had a tremendous ECU debut as he caught six passes for 105 yards, while Harris nabbed seven passes for a game-high 121 yards. Both players finished with two touchdowns each. Harris’ 121 receiving yards put him on top of ECU’s all-time list with 1,999.
The Pirates got on the board first when Jonathan Williams ripped off a 37-yard TD run in the first quarter. Williams gained 95 yards on 15 carries to pace the rushing attack.
East Carolina would add a 38-yard Michael Barbour field goal and a 30-yard Lewis TD reception to take a 17-16 halftime lead.
The new-look Pirates defense applied a good amount of pressure but only registered one Justin Dixon sack. ECU kept the Golden Hurricane running backs in check, but struggled defending Tulsa’s wide receiver sweeps and option game.
All-purpose star wideout Damaris Johnson led Tulsa with 56 rushing yards and one TD, while Charles Clay grabbed eight passes for 86 yards and a score.
Tulsa got into trouble when it went for a two-point conversion after Johnson’s 31-yard TD run in the second quarter and failed when Clay got stuffed at the line. The failed conversion made it a 13-10. The Hurricanes went for two twice more after that and failed twice. Had they been more conventional McNeill and the Pirates may have had to wait to celebrate their first win of the season.