Defense does it

Published 10:32 pm Saturday, September 24, 2011

UAB’s Greg Irvin attempts to bring down East Carolina quarterback Dominique Davis (4) during the second quarter at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium Saturday in Greenville. (AP Photo/The Daily Reflector, Rhett Butler)

GREENVILLE — The rise of the Pirates defense continued as the unit came up with a game-clinching stop on fourth down with a little over two minutes left in the game to preserve East Carolina’s 28-23 victory over UAB in the team’s Conference USA opener on Saturday.
The win is the first of the year for the Pirates (1-2, 1-0), who had to lean on their defense to rescue them after the offense tied school-record with seven turnovers.
“I told them last week to just win, and if it was pretty fine,” ECU coach Ruffin McNeill said. “But, I’ll take an ugly win just as quick as the next person.”

Led by linebackers Jeremy Grove (15 tackles) and Daniel Drake (12 tackles), the ECU defense tallied three sacks and one interception as it held UAB (0-3, 0-2) to 283 passing yards and 117 rushing.

Derrell Johnson and Cliff Perryman each had a sack, while Justin Dixon and Chris Baker combined for another one. The Pirates pressure knocked UAB starting quarterback Bryan Ellis out of the game with 1:09 left in the third quarterback after a hit by cornerback Leonard Paulk. On that play, Ellis (22-32 177) completed his pass to Jamarcus Nelson for an 11-yard gain, but sustained an injury and did not return to action.
The biggest play of the day came by Drake, whose coverage on UAB running back Pat Shed (15 car 59 yards, 11 recs, 62 yards, TD) forced him to drop the would-be go-ahead touchdown.
On their final possession of the game, the Blazers faced a fourth-and-eight situation from the Pirates’ 18-yard line trailing 28-23.
McNeill took a timeout to warn his defense that UAB would look to pass the ball to  Shed (15 car 59 yards, 11 recs, 62 yards, TD) out of the backfield.
McNeill would prove to be right, and Drake was ready. Despite a fantastic effort by Shed, he could not come down with Jonathan Perry’s pass as Drake was draped all over him.
“(McNeill) told me I had the running back on wheel route, and basically it was the perfect call,” Drake said.
East Carolina also got a big lift from running back Reggie Bullock, as the JUCO transfer ran 24 times for 169 yards and scored his first touchdown as a Pirate. That TD would allow ECU to recapture the lead, putting them ahead 21-17 with 8:43 left in the third.
“The line did a great job of opening holes and playing with passion and effort,” Bullock said.
Bullock’s output would be the most by a running back during the McNeill era, and the offense needed every bit of it as Michael Bowman, Joe Womack, Danny Webster and Dobson each lost fumbles.
Pirates quarterback Dominique Davis also had an up-and-down day as he completed 35 of his 42 pass attempts for 361 yards and three touchdowns, but was also intercepted three times. One of those interceptions was returned 35 yards by Jamie Bender for a score.
“A lot of teams would not be able to withstand (seven turnovers) or have the competitive desire to do that,” McNeill said.
Wide receiver Lance Lewis was also a big factor as he caught eight passes for 69 yards and two touchdowns.
Justin Hardy also had a big game as he grabbed seven passes for 90 yards and a score.