Pirates pick up statement win against UNC

Published 10:20 pm Saturday, September 20, 2014

DAVID CUCCHIARA | DAILY NEWS UNDAUNTED: Quarterback Shane Carden connects with freshman receiverTrevon Brown for a touchdown in the first quarter of Saturday’s win over the North CarolinaTarheels

UNDAUNTED: Quarterback Shane Carden connects with freshman receiver Trevon Brown for a touchdown in the first quarter of Saturday’s win over the North Carolina Tarheels

GREENVILLE — Midway through the fourth quarter of ECU’s home matchup against in-state rival North Carolina, fans in Dowdy-Ficklen were chanting an unmistakable, repetitive, “Our state. Our state.” It’s doubtful that any players, coaches or fans in the stands could disagree, considering the 70-41 performance ECU left on the field.

It was a historic, record-breaking night in Greenville. The 789 yards of total offense for ECU was a school record and the 70 points on the scoreboard was the most allowed by a North Carolina football team in 114 seasons of Tarheel football. Regarding the rivalry, ECU defeated UNC for just the fourth time in 17 chances, but for the first time ever, ECU defeated the Tarheels in back-to-back matchups. And between 2014 and 2013, the Pirates combined to hang 125 points on the hapless UNC defenses.

“In games like this at home against an in-state rival — we take it to another level,” said wide receiver Justin Hardy after the game. “With how the offense, defense and especially the offensive line is playing, that’s not even our best game. We were expecting to win this game.”

There were so many standout performers on ECU’s offense, that it’s nearly impossible to a pick a player of the game. Running back Breon Allen, who racked up 219 yards and two touchdowns (in the air-raid offense), was quick to praise the offensive line foremost. “My hat goes off to the big boys up front. Without them, I have zero yards tonight.”

The ECU “big boys” were equally impressive with pass blocking. The Tarheels aggressively blitzed, but the ECU offensive front was brilliant with pickups all night, especially in the second half. They allowed quarterback Shane Carden to have a field day on the Tarheel defense for the second consecutive year. This time, the senior threw for 438 yards on 30-for-48 passing and four touchdowns. The Houston-native also added two scores on the ground.

Ten Pirates caught passes on the night. Among them, freshman Trevon Brown thrilled for five receptions, 117 yards, two touchdowns and multiple broken tackles as the kick-returner.

The Pirate defense didn’t need to have their best game of the year considering the ECU attack, but following a couple trick play touchdowns from UNC (fake field goal and wide receiver pass) that gave UNC an early, 20-14 lead, the unit buckled down. Zeek Bigger, who set a career-high 17 tackles, was easily the standout.

The defensive captain said, “After the two trick plays they put on the scoreboard, I said, ‘Okay. Now it’s time to go at it.’ We always keep working.”

Bigger also delivered on the play that broke the game wide open: a 46-yard interception return on the first drive of the half that gave the Pirates a commanding 42-20 lead.

Following Saturday’s win, the Pirates have a well-deserved bye before starting conference play against SMU at home on Oct. 4. ECU went 2-1 against three-consecutive ranked opponents and have likely earned themselves the honor.

“I’m very excited about the win,” said head coach Ruffin McNeill. “I keep talking about our ability to focus. That was evident again. I keep asking the players to improve in those two aspects. I thought we did a good job of relying on our team intangibles and team chemistry. When we work as one break, one mind, one heartbeat, one spirit and one Pirate, we’ll be okay.”