Pirates, Mustangs meet with bowl eligibility on the line

Published 4:29 pm Friday, November 11, 2016

GREENVILLE — When the Pirates take the field against Southern Methodist Saturday in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, a bowl game appearance will hang in the balance.

For East Carolina, that means added motivation to pick up a conference win and right the ship.

“We still have a lot to play for,” senior receiver Zay Jones said. “The bowl game is still intact. It’s like the playoffs, we have to win if we want that extended game and I want that extended game and I’m sure the rest of the team does.”

A win over SMU would be just the first step in the Pirates’ seemingly improbable path to the elusive 13th game of the season. Currently sitting at 3-6, ECU would have to win out the rest of the season, beating American Athletic Conference studs Navy and Temple along the way.

That’s not an easy path, but as far as the Pirates are concerned, there’s still light at the end of the tunnel and a lot of confidence to boost.

“It’s the same pressure we’ve had since the beginning of the season,” offensive utility player James Summers said. “Going to a bowl game or even the championship. It’s the same pressure we’ve had since the summer. We’re in the hot seat. It’s win or go home, and we’re going to win.”

Seniors Jones and Summers know a thing or two about bowl pressure. Just last season, the Pirates faced a do-or-die game in Cincinnati, sitting at 5-6. The rest of the story is history, but Summers learned something from the experience and he hopes it’ll help the team get over the hump this time around.

“I’ve learned a lot personally,” Summers said. “It doesn’t matter how you get there, as long as you get there. I want these guys to come out and fight and as long as we have a chance, it’s not over until it’s over.”

Though the path looks bleak for the Pirates, a win over the Mustangs Saturday would keep their hopes alive.

That means beating a team that’s bowl aspirations are also on the line. At 4-5, and fresh off of a drubbing at the hands of Memphis, SMU is hoping to avoid the hot seat the Pirates currently occupy.

The Pirates are 4-1 at home this season and won convincingly over the Mustangs last season, 49-23. But second-year head coach Chad Morris has SMU trending up, evidenced by his squad’s victory over conference power Houston this season.

“They’re sound,” Jones said. “When you get this far in the season, and especially in our conference, you start playing really good teams and teams are starting to make less mistakes. They’re a good football team and we can’t take them lightly.”

SMU’s defense allowed 51 points last week to Memphis, and the Pirates hope they too can exploit the Mustangs’ weaknesses. For Summers, though, that means getting back to the basics.

“We’re just going to run our basic offense and go out and execute,” Summers said. “There’s a lot of things people can prepare for; they’re not good at this or they are good at that. If we can just execute the way we need to execute, then we’re going to be fine.”

Kickoff is set for noon Saturday in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.