Rob Taylor/The Daily Reflector
By Nathan Summers
Saturday, September 14, 2013
Right up to the final whistle on Saturday, the East Carolina football team had its chances against Virginia Tech, but one by one each of them fell by the wayside in a 15-10 loss at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
The Pirates enjoyed another strong day on defense, but the ECU offense couldn’t muster more than a single touchdown for the second straight game against the Hokies, this time scoring on the opening drive of the game and managing just three more points the rest of the day.
Even with the help of two missed field goals and a botched extra point on a nightmare afternoon for VT kicker Cody Journell, the Pirates couldn’t get a sniff of field goal territory, let alone find the end zone when they needed just three points to tie the game in the fourth quarter.
Trailing 13-10 since a VT touchdown at the 4:40 mark of the third, the Pirates’ final scoring attempt — a drive made possible by Journell’s third and possibly worst miscue at the uprights — ended when ECU quarterback Shane Carden was drilled in his own end zone with 1:31 left to play for a back-breaking safety.
“It’s unfortunate, but I was proud of us for making those opportunities,” ECU coach Ruffin McNeill said of his team’s numerous chances during its initial loss of the season, which leads into the first of two bye weeks for the 2-1 Pirates. “Our defense stepped up and forced those things to happen. We always want to take advantage of opportunities, and we always want to take advantage of turnovers.”
Carden was under the gun all afternoon amid fierce Virginia Tech pressure. The junior passer was sacked seven times and finished with a paltry 158 yards passing to go with his first three interceptions of the season.
Lead receiver Justin Hardy made a team-best six receptions, but for just 31 yards, followed by tailback Vintavious Cooper’s five grabs for 51 yards. Cooper also led the Pirates in rushing with a mere 28 yards, part of ECU’s 204 total yards.
“We had a lot of good stuff that was there, we made our adjustments and we’ve just got to play a little better on offense,” Carden said. “We knew we could get this thing going and be all right. We’d have a few good plays and then we’d have a weird play — a tipped ball for a pick, a couple of sacks that hurt us. When we were moving the ball, we were moving the ball great and we just got stuck.”
On the other side of the ball, the ECU defense largely shut the door on Tech freshman running back Trey Edmunds, who sputtered out a team-best 42 rush yards.
Senior Hokie quarterback Logan Thomas made the decisive play of the game with his go-ahead touchdown throw to DJ Coles late in the third and also tossed a TD to Demetri Knowles in an otherwise pedestrian 258-yard passing performance.
Playing in place of injured starting inside linebackers Kyle Tudor and Jeremy Grove, top ECU reserves Brandon Williams (tied for team high with 12 tackles, 1⁄2 sack) and Zeek Bigger (nine tackles, tackle for loss) both had strong outings to lead the defense. Also for the Pirates, linebacker Derrell Johnson had 12 stops, safety Damon Magazu added nine and lineman Terrell Stanley had eight tackles and a sack.
When it came to third down, however, the Pirates couldn’t get off the field, as the Hokies cashed in nine of their 20 opportunities.
“I think we got mixed up on a couple of calls but that’s something we can get fixed,” Williams said of ECU’s third down struggles. “We’ve got to work harder in practice on coverages.”
After the teams settled for a touchdown apiece in the first half, ECU broke the tie early in the third quarter thanks to a strong punt return from Danny Webster.
Starting at the VT 36-yard line, the Pirates stalled at the 27, setting up Warren Harvey’s 44-yard field goal that put them back in front, 10-7.
Minutes later, however, Thomas capped a 10-play, 75-yard march when he read an ECU blitz and lobbed a 3-yard TD pass to Coles in the middle of the end zone to give the Hokies their first and final lead of the day, 13-10, following Journell’s missed extra point.
Defensively, senior VT linebacker Jack Tyler led a balanced effort with six tackles, a sack and two tackles for loss, and adding 2.5 TFLs apiece were Tariq Edwards, James Gayle and J.R. Collins.
“They blitzed a bunch, more than we had seen on film,” McNeill said of the Hokies. “We’ve just got to adjust to it and get the ball out of there hot.”
Despite the constant pressure Carden faced from the Virginia Tech front seven in the opening two quarters — the Hokies recorded four sacks before halftime — ECU scored on its opening drive for the third straight game and played well enough on defense to keep the game deadlocked 7-7 at the intermission.
The Pirates strolled 75 yards on the game’s opening drive, capped by Carden’s 22-yard toss to Bryce Williams for his first-ever TD catch and a 7-0 lead. A 24-yard screen pass to Cooper served as the precursor. After that Carden fired a pass to Williams over the middle, and the sophomore spun out of one tackle before powering across the goal line.
The Hokies slowly came to life, countering with their lone scoring drive of the half late in the first quarter. After driving to the ECU 30, Thomas spiraled a high pass over the coverage of cornerback Adonis Armstrong and into the hands of a leaping Knowles, who pulled in the pass and found the end zone to knot the score.
ECU held a 174-137 edge in total yards in the first half, including 127 through the air.
The Pirates travel to Chapel Hill to take on the University of North Carolina on Sept. 28.
Contact Nathan Summers at email@example.com or 252-329-9595.
via The Daily Reflector.