ECU’s senior send-off
By Nathan Summers
Saturday, November 16, 2013
East Carolina took another big step toward the Conference USA football championship on Saturday, slaying the UAB Blazers by a count of 63-14 on Senior Day to maintain the lead atop the league’s East Division.
The Pirates (6-1 C-USA) ran their overall record to 8-2 for the first time since 1999 by overwhelming the Blazers (2-8, 1-5) with balance all afternoon.
ECU accrued 401 yards of offense in the first half alone, including 170 on the rush. At the third quarter turn, it was even closer with ECU at 273 yards passing and 276 rushing.
“Our underclassmen and our coaches decided that every rep we took tonight, every call and everything we did, was a senior rep, to go as hard as we can for the seniors,” fourth-year ECU head coach Ruffin McNeill said of ECU’s first four-game winning streak since the 2009 C-USA title-winning team. “Those guys have been with me and our staff from the beginning, and they’ve done everything we’ve asked and more.”
ECU quarterback Shane Carden followed up his school-record seven-touchdown performance against Tulsa with a five-TD day that included 347 pass yards.
Behind him, running back Vintavious Cooper — one of 23 seniors honored before the game — bruised the Blazers for 126 yards, including 113 in the first half, and three touchdowns. The Pirates also got 92 yards from junior Breon Allen.
“When you play in an air raid offense, it rarely ever happens, so when it does, you’re thankful for it,” said Cooper, who completed his second 100-yard game of the season, of the team’s 281 ground yards. “Our offensive line did a great job of run blocking all night long.”
The ECU senior salvo — seven of the team’s nine TDs were scored by Saturday honorees — was led by receiver Reese Wiggins, who cashed in a career day with five catches for 142 yards and a trio of scores. He was accompanied by Justin Hardy (5-47-1), Cam Worthy (3-40) and sophomore Bryce Williams, who made his fourth TD grab of the season.
“That was a special moment, and I told the guys I plan on having another one here in the conference championship,” Wiggins said of the Pirates, who could host the C-USA championship game on Dec. 7. “All the hard work put in, the time and hours in the weight room, it’s very humbling.”
The ECU defense’s equally big outing was highlighted by another Pirate senior, as linebacker Kyle Tudor snared a deflected UAB pass in the third quarter, then rambled like a running back through tacklers and behind blocks 50 yards for his first career touchdown.
“I’ve only had one other opportunity to do that in my life (in high school) and my mentality then was just to run the kid over,” said Tudor, who added six tackles, of his interception and deft running behind teammates. “I know that made my dad proud. I was just glad to actually get one.”
Also for the Pirate defense, safety Damon Magazu and linebacker Zeek Bigger wrapped up eight tackles apiece, while Fred Pressley added a sack.
Already leading by four TDs at the onset of the second half, Cooper battled over the goal line for his third score on ECU’s first possession of the third quarter, running the Pirate lead to 42-7. The ensuing UAB drive was interrupted by Tudor’s pick to dig the Blazers’ hole even deeper, 49-7.
In the opening seconds of the fourth, Carden dished out his fourth TD, a six-yard toss to Bryce Williams to extend the rout to 56-7 before a final Carden throw to Wiggins for 17 yards that capped the scoring.
The Blazers added their second TD of the game in the fourth quarter on QB Jonathan Perry’s 3-yard keeper.
Perry finished his day with 210 yards and a couple of interceptions, while the ECU defense held UAB running backs Jordan Howard and Darrin Reaves to a combined 104 yards and one TD.
“That’s one of the things we focused on, stopping the run,” said McNeill, whose team entered the game ranked seventh nationally in run defense. “Stop the run, control the run and then affect the pass with blitzes, stunts and those types of things.”
Despite Carden’s first two interceptions since early October, the Pirates were in cruise control at the intermission, leading 35-7.
Wiggins was the main man in the pass game, as Carden hit him four times for 125 yards and a couple of touchdowns in the first half to stake the Pirates a 14-0 lead after the first quarter.
In the second quarter, the ECU running game kicked into gear, with Cooper erupting for two straight scores as part of his game-best 113 ground yards in the opening half.
Before the break, Carden capped his big half with his third TD pass, this time to Hardy.
In all, Carden threw for 231 yards as part of the Pirates’ 401-yard barrage in the first half.
Carden zipped a 5-yard slant to Wiggins to open the scoring, then fired a screen to him on the left sideline, and Wiggins dashed 55 yards just inside the boundary line for his second TD and a 14-0 ECU edge.
UAB countered to make it 14-7 on a quick drive keyed by Perry’s 45-yard strike to receiver Jamari Staples down the left sideline and finished off by Reaves’ five-yard rush.
After that, the Pirates unleashed three unanswered TDs. Cooper burst through the middle for a 26-yard TD to stretch the lead to 21-7. After a 60-yard pass from Carden to Wiggins, Cooper hit paydirt again on a 5-yard pitch play to make it 28-7.
With less than a minute left in the second, Carden tossed a high fade to Hardy on the right side of the end zone, and the junior receiver coolly reached in front of UAB corner Lamarcus Farmer to snare the Pirates’ fifth TD of the day.
Contact Nathan Summers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-329-9595.
via The Daily Reflector.