Fumble lose-ski

Published 12:14 am Sunday, October 2, 2011

North Carolina’s Erik Highsmith (88) romps past East Carolina’s Derek Blacknall (26) to score a touchdown in the first quarter Saturday at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in Greenville. (AP Photo/The News & Observer, Robert Willett)

GREENVILLE — East Carolina’s turnover woes continued right where it left off as the Pirates coughed up the ball on their first three possessions against North Carolina, and in turn, fumbled away any chance they had of topping their in-state rivals. The Tar Heels forced two fumbles and intercepted quarterback Dominique Davis two times en route to a 35-20 victory in front of an ECU-record 50,610 fans on Saturday night.

“In the first half we got ourselves in a hole,” East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill said. “In the second half, I was very proud of our kids. We’ll keep working … We’ll keep growing as a team and get better.”

East Carolina entered the game with eight fumbles lost, which ranked 118th out of 120 FBS teams, while its 13 turnovers ranked 117th.

North Carolina, which had no turnovers, got a solid an efficient effort from quarterback Bryn Renner as he went 13-for-20 for 230 yards and four touchdowns. That performance was aided by a powerful Tar Heels’ rushing attack that accounted for 226 yards as freshman Giovani Bernard ran 24 times for 147 yards and touchdown.

“That (rushing attack) is out identity,” North Carolina coach Everett Withers said. “We talked about it at halftime, we wanted to take the ball and take the air out of it. We wanted to run it, run it, run it and then throw it when we had shots.”

The Pirates on the other hand, threw it, threw it, threw it, and then threw it some more as Davis hit on 41 of his 58 attempts for a school-record 417 yards and two scores. After the game, the senior QB didn’t take much satisfaction in the record saying, “It’s means nothing without a ‘W.’”

With so much emphasis on ECU turnovers leading into Saturday’s game Davis allowed for the fact that it might have entered the team’s psyche, hence becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“Possibly,” Davis said. “But, after Reggie fumbled that ball I had to go to the sideline and tell everybody to man up and execute and in the second half we didn’t turn the ball over.”

Davis wasn’t the only Pirate to post big stats as wide receiver Lance Lewis had 10 catches for 166 yards and touchdown. The senior’s 166 receiving yards were the sixth-most in a game in school history.

Linebacker Jeremy Grove continued to be a force in the Pirates’ new 3-4 defense as he racked up a game-high 13 tackles to become the first player in ECU history to record over 10 tackles in the first four games of the year.

The Pirates (1-3, C-USA) received the ball to start the game and moved it well until freshman wide receiver Danny Webster fumbled a Davis pass to hand the ball to the Tar Heels at their own 18-yard line.

After UNC (4-1, ACC) was forced to punt, East Carolina gave the ball right back to the Heels as a Davis pass tipped off the out-stretched hands of Joe Womack and landed into the mitts of corner Tim Scott for his first interception of his career.

Two plays later, North Carolina Renner connected with Jheraine Boyd in the back left of the end zone for to take a 7-0 lead.

On the ensuing possession, East Carolina again was able to move the ball against the UNC defense but could not get points. After a Lewis reception put the Pirates inside the red zone, running back Reggie Bullock (16-71) was stripped by Tydreke Powell and the ball was recovered by linebacker Kevin Reddick.

Two plays later Brenner threw a play-action pass to a wide-open Erik Highsmith for a 75-yard touchdown pass and a 14-0 lead.

The Pirates responded on their next possession with another solid drive, but had to settle for a 35-yard Michael Barbour field goal when the offense sputtered on third down.

North Carolina was quick to answer back as it scored on its next drive as Dwight Jones caught a 47-yard TD pass over Justin Venable to go up 28-3 at the 5:04 mark in the second half.

Jones would lead the Tar Heels with six catches for 93 yards and two touchdowns.

With :50 left in the half, the Pirates where pinned inside their own 5-yard line by a UNC punt and attempted to put some points on the board before halftime. However, a Davis pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage and DT Sylvester Williams made a diving interception for the Heels. That pick set up a 39-yard field goal attempt by Casey Barth, but he could not convert the kick.

In the third quarter the Pirates chipped away at North Carolina’s lead as Davis connected with Lewis for a 23-yard touchdown and Barbour added a 25-yard field to cut the deficit to 28-13 heading into the fourth quarter.

The score would stay that way until midway through the final stanza when Renner hooked up with Jones for a four-yard TD pass and a 35-13 lead.

East Carolina would add one more score before the whistle blew as Davis hit Webster for a 4-yard touchdown pass in the right corner of the end zone for his first TD as a Pirate.