Pirates throw dirt on the Miners

Published 11:58 pm Saturday, September 29, 2012

East Carolina running back Vintavious Cooper (center) and the Pirates topped UTEP 28-18 on Saturday. (ECU Photo/Rob Goldberg)

GREENVILLE — East Carolina head coach Ruffin McNeill said he did not want to see first-year starting quarterback Shane Carden play with hesitation and the sophomore granted his wish as he completed 23 of his 40 passes for 258 yards, one TD and three interceptions while running for two scores to lead the Pirates past UTEP for a 28-18 rain-soaked victory Saturday night.
Carden was backed by a resurgent Pirates’ rushing attack that was led by junior transfer Vintavious Cooper who rushed for 151 yards and a TD and caught four passes for 52 yards.
Cooper scored late in the fourth quarter to put ECU up 28-10, but the Miners retaliated with a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Autrey Golden and then recovered the ensuing onside kick. However, the East Carolina defense picked off QB Nick Lamaison for the third time to washout UTEP’s hope of a comeback.
Running back Nathan Jeffrey spearheaded the UTEP attack as he ran for 133 yards on 23 attempts.
East Carolina (3-2, 2-0 C-USA) fell behind early as the Miners (1-4, 0-1 C-USA) scored on their second possession of the game when Lamaison (9-26-144) directed them on a 12-play, 98-yard drive that chewed 5:37 off the clock an ended with wide receiver Jordan Leslie beating corner Leonard Paulk on two-yard fade route on the right side of the end zone.
The Pirates responded on their next possession with a fast-paced six-play scoring drive to tie the game at seven.
A 39-yard run by Cooper, in which he was able break free from a pile up to gain extra yardage, put the Pirates at the UTEP 1-yard line. After a false start penalty pushed ECU back to the six, Carden scrambled through the Miners’ defense on a designed run to even the score at 7-7 at the 2:44 mark.
The touchdown marked the first time the Pirates had reached the end zone in the first quarter all year.
UTEP took a 10-7 lead midway through the second quarter when it rode the back of Jeffery to get to the ECU 12-yard line, but would not get any closer to the end zone and was forced to settle for a 29-yard Steven Valadez field goal.
The Pirates appeared poised to tack on another TD as Carden and Co. marched down field on the strength of a 40-yard completion to freshman WR Jabril Solomon that put ECU at the Miners 9-yard line. ECU would move up to the six after a Carden run when the action stopped due to a lightning delay that lasted an hour and 20 minutes.
While the heavy rain soaked the field, the pause in play sapped the Pirates’ momentum and when the game resumed Carden threw his first pick of the contest on a play-action pass that was intercepted by Shane Hughn.
The Pirates’ defense forced a three-and-out on the ensuing possession and ECU once again drove down the field as an 18-yard reception by Derrick Harris set up a Justin Hardy two-yard TD reception where he was initially ruled out of bounds until the officials’ replay proved otherwise.
The Pirates would take a 14-10 lead on the touchdown and would not trail for the rest of the game.
Carden added his second rushing touchdown of the night when dashed across the goal line from eight yards out to take a 21-10 advantage with :51 remaining in the third.
East Carolina padded its lead in the fourth when safety Chip Thompson intercepted a pass and returned it to the UTEP 24 where one play later Cooper danced through the Miners’ defense for a score.
The Miners would not go out quietly as Golden returned the ensuing kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown.