Taking a backseat
Published 9:36 pm Saturday, November 5, 2011
GREENVILLE — The Pirates started out their battle for the Conference USA East Division lead in spectacular fashion, but the game quickly turned into a spectacle as Southern Miss answered with three touchdowns in a five-minute span to coast to a 48-28 victory on Saturday.
After Reese Wiggins scored on a 72-yard screen pass on the Pirates’ second play of the game, ECU (4-5, 3-2) quickly went from the driver’s seat to the backseat as the Golden Eagles (8-1, 4-1) would go on to score on a 97-yard interception, a 60-yard punt return and punt block that was returned 15-yards for a touchdown to take a 21-7 lead.
The Golden Eagles’ momentum would carry over into the second quarter where they outscored ECU 17-7, with their last TD of the half coming after Davis threw his second pick of the game which was returned 79-yards for a touchdown.
At the end of two quarters, USM’s 176 yards and two scores off of interceptions bested its own offense by 11 yards and a touchdown.
“In the first half we had four mishaps that led to touchdowns and I thought that was the deal-breaker,” East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill said. “Four touchdowns with our defense not on the field, I thought that was tough.”
After Wiggins’ score, the Pirates seemed poised to add their lead as Davis and the offense marched swiftly down the field on their second possession. ECU got all the way to the USM 8-yard line when disaster struck. Davis fired a ball to the right side of the end zone where it hit off wide receiver Bobby Womack and into the hands of Jamie Collins who dashed 97 yards for the longest interception return in Southern Miss history.
“It was a slant route, I threw it, (Womack) said he dropped it and it just popped into the air,” Davis said. “They just made a great play.”
Davis would finish the game with 262 passing yards as he completed 22 of his 36 attempts for two scores and two interceptions, while he was sacked five times.
ECU went three-and-out on its ensuing possession, which brought junior Aussie punter Phil McNaughton on to the field. McNaughton, who was made his first start with the Pirates, earned the job this week after senior Ben Ryan struggled against Tulane last Saturday.
McNaughton didn’t exactly sparkle in his debut as he kicked his first ball down the middle of the field and into the hands of USM return man Tracey Lampley, who was able to get outside the ECU defense and run 60 yards for a score.
McNaughton’s second attempt went just as poorly as Reggie Hunt swooped to block the ball, which was recovered by Emmanuel Johnson and returned 15-yards for a touchdown and 21-7 lead.
“(The first punt) was a rugby punt were we roll out and I want to hit it along the ground but there was a little bit too much air under that,” McNaughton said. “The returner was a bit closer than I thought he would be. I tried to land it about 30 yards and let it roll, but he was up shorter than that so obviously he got the ball. That wasn’t a good situation.”
The second situation wasn’t too good either as an ECU substitution on special teams may have contributed to the punt block.
“We had to put Charlie Coggins in to snap because Will Smith got something in his eye,” McNaughton said. “The snap was a little bit high and they brought the house and I just didn’t get it off quick enough, but I’ll have to look at film to see exactly what happen.”
McNeill said despite the block he was not tempted to put Ryan into the game.
“There was no temptation at that time,” McNeill said. “Philip had won (the job) in practice. I don’t think Philip blocks, he punts the football, he’s got to have protection on that.”
After the block, Davis would go on the score on a 3-yard TD run at the 6:06 mark in the second quarter, but ECU would go into halftime down 38-14.