It’s Heel Week for ECU
Published 11:43 pm Monday, September 26, 2011
GREENVILLE — It’s Heel Week for the Pirates as they prepare to take on in-state rival North Carolina, and with the opening kickoff scheduled for 8 p.m., the sold out contest figures to be a wild one.
East Carolina is no stranger to thrillers, as it won a sloppy but exciting game over UAB on Saturday, 28-23. That victory broke a five-game losing skid that dated back to Nov. 11, 2010, when ironically, it beat UAB in a 54-42 contest that also came right down to the wire.
This Saturday, ECU (1-2, 1-0 C-USA) will look to piece together consecutive wins for the first time since it won three in row by topping Southern Miss, N.C. State and Marshall, respectively, last October.
In order to do that, ECU must first take down the Tar Heels, who under first-year head coach Everett Withers, has a 3-1 record and is coming off of a 35-28 loss to fellow ACC foe Georgia Tech, who was ranked No. 25 in the AP poll.
The last time the Pirates played UNC at home was Sept. 8, 2007, when kicker Ben Hartman overcame three missed field goals only to nail the game-winner and hand ECU a 34-31 victory. That would also be the last time the Pirates topped their rival. The Pirates hold a lifetime record of 2-10-1 record against the Heels.
On Saturday, the Pirates barely escaped with a win over a UAB team that had yet to score an offensive touchdown heading into the matchup.
The Blazers were able to keep up in large part because ECU kept letting them back in the game by committing a school record-tying seven turnovers.
Wide receivers Michael Bowman, Joe Womack and Danny Webster each coughed up the ball once, while RB Michael Dobson fumbled in the end zone. On top of that, quarterback Dominique Davis threw three interceptions, one of which tipped off a receivers hands and was caught by UAB’s Jamie Bender who returned it 35 yards for a score.
On Monday, Pirates head coach Ruffin McNeill said he has taken measure to try to cure the team’s turnover woes.
“We addressed it after the game and we addressed it (Sunday) night with emphasis and intense drills. There was very high attention paid to that,” McNeill said. “A few (turnovers) were due to technique; we need to keep the ball high and tight, which we worked on. Three of them were because they were fighting for extra yards.”
After three games East Carolina has lost eight fumbles, which ranks 118th in the nation, while its 13 total turnovers ranks 117th.
Those turnovers led to UAB marching down the field late in the fourth quarter with chance to win the game. The Blazers were denied that win when the Pirates’ defense sniffed out a play on a decisive fourth-and-8 situation on the ECU 18-yard line.
After seeing the formation UAB was using, the Pirates called a timeout to alert the team that the Blazers were going to throw to RB Pat Shed out of the backfield. After that, the prepared Pirates came up with a big stop.
“(Defensive coordinator) Brian (Mitchell) was up in the box and John (Wiley) was on the sideline and both saw it. (UAB) had a tight end and a wing and an off-setback, which for them, on our tendency sheets meant a wheel route,” McNeill said. “We recognized it and wanted to make sure we discussed it.”
The Pirates’ defense of that play preserved their win, but on Monday McNeill decided to hand the game ball to the fans for their raucous support of the team.
“That last drive, defensively, (UAB) was moving the ball and we had to come through. If you could have felt the will (of the fans), they just willed us to win,” McNeill said.
That win came at a cost as senior center Doug Polochak is listed as “out” for Saturday with a knee injury. Polochak hurt that knee in the second half against UAB and was replaced by senior Hugh Parker, who drew praise from McNeill for his play and preparation. Parker is expected to start Saturday versus North Carolina and will be backed up by junior Josh Clark.
Nearing closer to action is OL Drew Gentry (knee) and ILB Kyle Tudor (knee), who are both listed as “probable,” while WR Justin Jones has been upgraded to “questionable.”
On Monday Parker wasn’t the only lineman cited for doing a good job, as McNeill gave the entire unit credit for the spike in production in the running game.
Junior running back Reggie Bullock averaged 7 yards per carry as he tallied 169 rushing yards and a touchdown en route to being named the Conference USA Offensive Player of the Week.