“He can throw it and has a good arm, and it was a good play by Hardy. It was a great call by (offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley), great timing and a great job by Hardy putting it on the money.”
ECU coach Ruffin McNeill
By Nathan Summers
Sunday, November 3, 2013
MIAMI — East Carolina started fast, disappeared for a while and then finished with a bang against Florida International on Saturday night in Miami.
The Pirates became bowl eligible with a 34-13 victory over the host Panthers, but it wasn’t as easy as the score suggested. FIU was within striking distance in the third quarter after an Austin Taylor field goal pulled the Panthers to within a score, 21-13, and it came after some valiant defensive play stalled ECU late in the first half and well into the second.
But with 8 minutes, 7 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, ECU quarterback Shane Carden flipped the ball to tailback Vintavious Cooper, who handed off to receiver Justin Hardy on an end-around, and the junior who had long since amassed 100 yards and a touchdown sent a 35-yard laser to a wide-open Isaiah Jones to give ECU some breathing room at 28-13.
After that, the Pirates (6-2, 4-1 Conference USA) turned up the defensive pressure and added a late insurance TD by Cooper — his second of the night — to close the door.
“FIU did a good job, and this is the best they’ve played,” ECU head coach Ruffin McNeill said after his team won despite more than 40 minutes of possession by the Panthers. “We came down here and handled our business. There were some plays we’d like to have back in every game, but to win on the road is always hard.”
Carden finished with 264 pass yards and three touchdown throws, though the biggest score of the game came from the player who also made five receptions for 136 yards and tied ECU’s career mark for career receiving TDs with his 22nd.
“He can throw it and has a good arm, and it was a good play by Hardy,” McNeill said of the big play, lauding offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley for the gutsy play-call. “It was a great call by Linc, great timing and a great job by Hardy putting it on the money.”
The Pirates out-gained the Panthers in total offense, 373 yards to 267, but managed just 74 rush yards.
Jones led all ECU receivers with nine catches for 92 yards, and DaQuan Barnes and Cooper each made touchdown receptions.
“We understand coming on the road in conference games, we’re going to get teams’ best,” Carden said. “Each week sitting on top of the conference standings, we’re going to get the best from every team and we got their best tonight.”
On the defensive side, the Pirates yielded more yards to the Panthers than most teams this season, but FIU (1-7, 1-3) managed just one field goal the entire second half. The ECU defensive effort was powered by outside linebacker Montese Overton’s three sacks and inside LB Kyle Tudor’s 10 tackles.
“Montese is a big-time player and he and Derrell (Johnson) form a pretty good tandem on pass rush, and the interior is what causes a lot of the pressure,” McNeill said. “(Defensive linemen) Lee Pegues, Terrell Stanley and Chrishon Rose in our boss package did a great job. I was proud of the secondary too because they did some good things on the back end.”
Lamarq Caldwell led the FIU rush with 53 yards, while quarterback E.J. Hilliard managed 194 yards with no TDs and an interception to ECU safety Chip Thompson.
The Pirates started quickly, scoring touchdowns on two of their first three drives, but the Panthers battled back to make it a respectable 21-10 at the half.
Hardy had amassed more than 100 yards by the early minutes of the second quarter, and on just three catches. The first one was a short toss over the middle from Carden, and Hardy sliced through a couple of Panthers defenders and broke free for a 45-yard touchdown and a quick 7-0 lead.
It marked the eighth time in eight games this season that the Pirates have scored on the opening drive, and the seventh time they’ve scored a TD.
FIU answered with freshman Taylor’s career-long 52-yard field goal to cut the ECU lead to 7-3, but the Pirates fashioned another big-play TD before the end of the opening quarter.
Carden capped a nine-play scoring march when he connected with Barnes on a short inside route, and Barnes made one cut through the defense and dashed 26 yards to the end zone for his first career touchdown.
After a big fourth-and-one stop by the ECU defense at the onset of the second quarter, the Pirates pieced together another scoring drive finished off when Carden rolled to his right and zipped a 2-yard TD pass to Cooper at the goal line to stretch the lead to 21-3.
The Panthers, however, had the last significant success of the half, manufacturing a nearly 10-minute drive that went 17 plays before running back Silas Spearman fought his way across the goal line to make it 21-10 Pirates.
Warren Harvey missed a 48-year field goal attempt in the final seconds of the half.
“They did some things on defense (to slow the Pirates down), but there were some routine plays we’ll probably see on film that we could have made to continue drives and extend drives a little bit, but I was proud of the way we finished,” McNeill said, noting that he challenged his offense prior to the key Hardy touchdown pass. “We told them we needed a big drive right here, and the offense was able to do that.”
Contact Nathan Summers at email@example.com or 252-329-9595.
via The Daily Reflector.