Pirates get blown out of the water

Published 7:26 pm Saturday, September 8, 2012

COLUMBIA, S.C.  — East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill knew No. 9 South Carolina wouldn’t need any assistance to beat his Pirates. Then his team went out and turned the ball over five times in a 48-10 loss to the Gamecocks on Saturday.
“We didn’t help ourselves with turnovers. Against a great team like South Carolina, they don’t need our help,” McNeill said.
East Carolina (1-1) gained 403 yards, but the five turnovers doomed them against the Gamecocks (2-0). The four interceptions and a fumble came over 16 plays in the second and third quarters.
The Pirates also may not appear to be any closer to finding a starting quarterback. Rio Johnson got the start again, but McNeill turned the game over to Shane Carden at the start of the second half after Johnson threw two interceptions in the first 30 minutes.
Carden, who broke his finger in spring practice, threw an interception on his first pass. Johnson came back, and threw another pick four plays later that South Carolina’s Jimmy Legree returned for a touchdown to put the Gamecocks ahead 35-0.
Carden returned to the game and led the Pirates on their only two scoring drives, including waiting out the rush to throw a 34-yard touchdown pass to Justin Hardy that cut South Carolina’s lead to 41-10 with nine minutes left in the game.
Carden was 12-of-18 for 140 yards and an interception, while Johnson completed 18 of 29 passes for 193 yards and three interceptions.
“We’ll watch film, get together and make the best decision for the team. We have the option of playing either one of those guys,” McNeill said.
Hardy caught eight passes for 111 yards for East Carolina as 11 players caught passes for the Pirates. Vintavious Cooper led the team with 31 yards on six carries.
The Pirates used to have South Carolina’s number. From 1991 to 1999, the teams played seven times, and East Carolina won five of them. The Pirates led 24-14 during last year’s game, but have been outscored 90-23 in the past six quarters against the Gamecocks.
East Carolina also still has only one win over a top 10 team — a 27-23 win over No. 9 Miami in 1999.
“It was definitely a game where we faced a top 10 team and got outplayed,” McNeill said.
The Gamecocks had a first time starter at quarterback as sophomore Dylan Thompson took over for Connor Shaw, whose throwing shoulder was bruised in South Carolina’s win last week over Vanderbilt.
Thompson completed 21 of 37 passes for 330 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
It was an impressive debut, East Carolina cornerback Leonard Palk said.
“You have to give him a lot of credit for the job he did. He put the ball where it needed to be,” Palk said.
South Carolina led 35-3 at the end of the third quarter, and coach Steve Spurrier didn’t let up.
The Gamecocks threw the ball or planned to throw it on 14 of 19 plays in the fourth quarter. Wide receiver Ace Sanders took a lateral and threw a 16-yard touchdown to D.L. Moore, then third string quarterback Seth Strickland threw a 51-yard touchdown pass to tight end Rory Anderson with 44 seconds left.
McNeill shook off the last TD pass, saying he respects Spurrier, and Spurrier respects him.
“It’s our job to stop them. It’s not their job to stop themselves. I’ve always felt that way,” McNeill said.
The Pirates will now get ready for Southern Mississippi next week in their Conference USA opener. Carden said that is reason enough to be the 38-point loss Saturday behind them as quickly as possible.
“It is very hard to lose a game like this, but it doesn’t change our goal of winning our conference,” Carden said. “We just have to be ready for next week.”