ECU opens season with shoot-out win

GREENVILLE, N.C. – Two explosive offenses were on full display when ECU faced Old Dominion in their 2013 season openers.

All of the hype leading up to Saturday night's game at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium was surrounding quarterbacks Shane Carden and Taylor Heinicke. During both team's season opener, neither disappointed.

The signal callers combined for 785 yards and eight touchdowns through the air, with Carden breaking his own school-passing-record – he completed 46 of his 54 attempts for 447 yards and five touchdowns – pacing East Carolina past Old Dominion, 52-38.

"The first game is always tough anywhere, but to come out with a victory, I was very proud of our group," said head coach Ruffin McNeill. "Shane did a good job for us tonight … and led us to victory."

When asked about going toe-to-toe with Heinicke, Carden said, "It's not me versus him … It's not like Troy, where it's just one guy sent out versus one guy."

As for his receivers, Justin Hardy led the way with his team-best 16 catches for 191 yards, but it was two true freshmen that stole the show. In their collegiate debuts, Davon Grayson and Isaiah Jones each found the end-zone, with Grayson doing so on three separate occasions.

Despite all the offensive fireworks, the difference between these two offensive powerhouses was the game's lone turnover – a third-quarter fumble, forced by Gabriel Woullard, that was returned 26 yards by linebacker Ty Holmes for a touchdown.

"I was happy for that, we needed that," said head coach Ruffin McNeill, "Ty Holmes has a way of getting his hands on the ball, so I was proud of that."

Following the defensive score, both teams traded touchdowns on the next four possessions, but the score provided the Pirates a much-needed cushion that the Monarchs could never make up.

Carden stuck a dagger into the hearts of the Monarchs when he found Jones for a four-yard touchdown that gave ECU its largest lead of the game at 49-31. The score came with just 9:26 left in the fourth quarter.

Due to the Pirates' pass-happy approach, the running game didn't get many chances to have an impact on the outcome. The team rushed for a net of 34 yards with Vintavious Cooper leading the way with 38 yards on 12 carries.

For ODU, Heinicke finished the game 38-for-51 passing for 338 yards and three touchdowns, while rushing for a game-best 52 rushing yards and another score. Blair Roberts received the bulk of the targets for the Monarchs and came through with 9 receptions and two touchdowns.

The Pirates set the tone from the opening kickoff when it won the toss and elected to receive. On their first offensive series of the game, they drove 75 yards for a score – capped by a four-yard touchdown pass from Carden to Danny Webster.

ODU responded with a drive into the ECU redzone, but was forced to settle for a 27-yard field goal by Jarod Brown. Later in the half, Heinicke gave the Monarchs their first lead with a one-yard touchdown pass to Blair Roberts to complete a methodical, 95-yard series.

Both quarterbacks continued their momentum by trading touchdown passes on the next two possessions, which set up ECU deep in their own territory – trailing 17-14 – with just over two minutes in the first half.

In the two-minute drill, Carden drove the Pirates into the redzone and on a broken play, found Grayson for a 6-yard touchdown as time expired. ECU went into halftime leading ODU 21-17.

The Monarchs received the ball to start the second half and just 51 seconds into the third quarter, Heinicke was flushed out of the pocket and eventually sack-stripped by Woullard, leading to Holmes' game-changing defensive touchdown that put the Pirates ahead 28-17.

ECU now sets its sights for a quick turnaround when it hosts new Conference USA member Florida Atlantic (0-1) on Thursday. Similar to Saturday's matchup, it will be the first ever meeting between the schools, except the Owls are seeking their first win following a 34-6 loss to Miami (Fla.) Friday.

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