Win over Southern Miss puts Pirates in prime position|ECU gears up for the Wolfpack

Published 10:22 pm Tuesday, October 12, 2010

By By BRIAN HAINES, Sports Writer
A 32-yard scoring pass from Dominique Davis to Michael Bowman on fourth-and-7 with 4:36 left in the game, coupled with a late defensive stand that ended with Matt Milner sack fueled an East Carolina victory over Conference USA rival Southern Miss on Saturday and may serve as a springboard for greater success this season.
The big question now is can that momentum fuel the Pirates (3-2, 3-0) to a win over ACC in-state rival N.C. State (2-1) on Saturday in Greenville.
After two weeks of looking like a first-half team, East Carolina took steps towards showing it is capable of playing a full game as it battled back from a 20-0 first-quarter deficit and out-scored a strong Golden Eagles team that many viewed as a C-USA East favorite 27-23 in the second half.
On Monday during his weekly press conference, first-year coach Ruffin McNeill praised his team and coaching staff for keeping cool when things looked horrible early on.
“We got off to a slow start, compliments need to go to Southern Miss on that, but the next compliments need to go to our football team,” McNeill said. “If you could have heard them on the sideline it was just full of positive commentary. There were positive compliments between player-coach, coach-player, player-to-player and coach-to-coach encouraging one another and just saying ‘hey we’re OK, we’re fine’ even when it was 20-0.
“We talked all week about playing for 60 minutes and four quarters. That was an item that had been brought up quiet a bit in the last two losses. As a staff, one of our big points of emphasis was playing for 60 minutes and four quarters. After getting down we fought back, and I was very pleased with that.”
For the Pirates, Saturday night’s win over USM was huge because it gives them a perfect 3-0 Conference USA record and spot at the top of the East division of C-USA.
Underneath them is UCF who is 1-0 in conference play and is followed by Southern Miss who is 1-1. Everybody else in the East is still looking for its first win.
The victory also clears one hurdle of the big three C-USA opponents that the Pirates will face this season, leaving dates with UCF (Oct. 30, on the road) and SMU (Nov. 26, at home) as the last two major C-USA hurdles to jump over.
The win impacted McNeill and his crew in more ways than one. Aside from putting ECU in the drivers seat to win their third straight C-USA East crown, it also boosted morale and furthered the jelling process between a new coach and his players.
“It was a big win because we have worked hard and they have done everything that the coaches have asked of them,” McNeill said. “It was big because we have come off of two tough losses versus Virginia Tech and UNC at their places and it was the third road game in a row. I mean we are playing a top conference rival at their place on homecoming in a packed arena and to be able to win it validates the work that we have been doing. It validates the progress that we know has been made and that’s not overlooking the 3-0 start in the conference. … It’s the team part of it that’s big to me. Individuals are good, but the best team will win championships.”
East Carolina will need a team effort if it wants to win it’s last crack at an ACC team this year when it hosts the rival Wolfpack at noon.
N.C. State is led by its fantastic junior quarterback Russell Wilson and is coming off of a 44-17 win over Boston College.
Wilson is a tremendous athlete who is capable of creating havoc out of the pocket, but McNeill said the star signal-caller is much more of a pocket quarterback.
“Russell is a passing quarterback, but he can run the football,” McNeill said. “Russell has great calmness in the pocket and really good accuracy with the football. He can throw all the throws from far hash to out cut, to seem, to touch throws, he can throw the back hip pass which is tough. He really has all the throws.”
Heading into Saturday’s game, N.C. State has the No. 1 scoring offense in the ACC with 37.5 points per game while its 444.3 total yards per game is tops as well. Wilson’s 300 passing yards per game is tops in the ACC along with his 325.5 yards of total offense per game.