by Brent Cooper
Greenville, NC – For the East Carolina Pirates and the 50,719 fans at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium Saturday in the 7th highest attended home game in East Carolina history, 0:00 did not come soon enough. Despite building an early 12-0 lead, in part due to numerous N.C. State errors, especially in the kicking game and untimely penalties, the Pirates failed to put away the feisty Wolfpack. In fact, after Pirates running back Anthony Scott’s drop of a likely touchdown catch late in the first half, ECU missed two field goal attempts on back-to-back plays which would have given the Pirates the halftime lead.
It appeared Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren and his staff were making all the right calls as the Pack erased their early 12-0 deficit and turned it into a 20-19 halftime lead. It appeared the Wolfpack had all the momentum they would need to end a two-game losing streak to the Power 5 conference, aspiring Pirates. However, after two missed first half field goals on the Pack’s second and third drives, the Wolfpack left more points off the scoreboard by foregoing an extra point after taking a 13-12 lead on a five yard run by Jaylen Samuels. Instead, Doeren opted to roll the dice only to have the two point conversion fail. Then, when the Pack’s first second half drive stalled at the Pirates 11 yard line, Doeren rolled the dice again, opting to forego a chipshot field goal instead choosing to fake it into an option left on 4th and 5 which was played to perfection by Senior inside linebacker Terrell Richardson. These 10 points, along with an almost sure Pick 6 dropped by Wolfpack linebacker Jerod Fernandez near the Pirates 30 late in the first half on an errant 3rd and 12 pass by Pirates quarterback Philip Nelson would turn out to be the difference between a crucial Wolfpack win before a arduous October ACC Atlantic Division schedule and another notch in the resume for East Carolina’s quest for a Power 5 conference invitation.
Other than the Wolfpack miscues which kept a likely 17 points off the scoreboard in their favor the two plays of the game may have come in the two determined runs by former Wolfpack recruit and ECU offensive utility man James Summers. Summers 27 yard touchdown run gave the Pirates a 9-0 lead in the first and his 15 yard run the play after Philip Nelson was injured on a rougher the passer in the third regained the lead for the Pirates at 25-23. Summers left no doubts in his post-game comments how much this win meant to him.
The Wolfpack did not go away quietly, a credit to their resilience after a disappointing end to the 2015 season with late season lopsided losses to North Carolina and then to Mississippi State in the Bell Bowl then led by currents Dallas Cowboys rookie starting quarterback Dak Prescott. After falling behind 12-0, the Pack held leads of 13-12, 20-19, 23-19, and 30-26 before eventually falling to the Pirates late in the 4th. Newly named full-time Wolfpack starting quarterback Ryan Finley made plays through the air and w his legs, including the then go-ahead touchdown pass of 80 yards to Stephen Lewis late in the 2nd quarter which gave the Pack a 20-19 lead and the go-ahead touchdown run from 16 yards out early in the 4th to give the Lack its last lead of 30-26.
However, Pirates QB Philip Nelson followed Finley’s impressive 12 play, 90 yard, 6:00 minute drive with a 14 play, 84 yard, 7:15 second drive of his own, capped off by Anthony Scott’s five yard run to paydirt which gave the Pirates a lead they would never relinquish at 33-30.
However, on a day in which it appeared it was going to come down to who made the last mistake, as opposed to who had the ball and scored last, could the most important storyline of this day and this back-and-forth, equally, mistake-filled game be the necessity to ensure such games become an increasing reality in the future between the Pirates and ACC football foes? On the second weekend of the NCAA season, which minus a racetrack filled regional battlebetween Tennessee and Virginia Tech at Bristol Motor Speedway and officials directly influencing a Power 5 conference team’s and conference’s destiny with an admitted bad call in the Central Michigan-Oklahoma State game, the ECU-N C. State regional clash was one of the most competitive and exciting games of this college football Saturday. More East Carolina versus ACC foe games are needed if Saturday’s result is any indication of what we are missing by a lack of these games.
Similarly, and most non-ECU fans cringe at the initiation of this conversation, but isn’t it time to consider the impact to the league of strengthening the ACC’s Coastal Division by adding East Carolina, a perfect geographic and historical fit. Historically, Miami and Virginia Tech have been regulars on the Pirates football schedule. In the past fifteen years since the NC General Assembly intervened, North Carolina has been a regular on the Pirates schedule as well. No matter your position on Saturday’s East Carolina-N.C. State battle in the suffocating heat and humidity of eastern North Carolina, if you attended live or watched via the confines of your home, Saturday’s game was another one for the ages. The results leave questions for both teams to answer, and weaknesses which may be picked on by future foes during the 2016 college football season. Nevertheless, Saturday‘ s game was good for college football, good for the state of North Carolina, and good for Pirates and Wolfpack fans alike. You’d never known Pirates and Wolfpack fans had just been in an intense rivalry battle if you’d witnessed them eating side by side at a packed Parker’s Barbecue in Wilson just an hour after the game. Why not in the future do battle as ACC cross-division foes!