Pirates drop heart-breaker against Hokies

GREENVILLE, N.C. -- ECU had its chances to knock off Virginia Tech Saturday, but instead is handed its first loss of the 2013 season.

The East Carolina football team had its opportunities when it faced the Virginia Tech Hokies Saturday afternoon at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

In front of a sell-out crowd, the Hokies only scored 15 points in large part to a stifling defensive performance by the Pirates. Despite that, ECU uncharacteristically struggled on offense and couldn't solve Virginia Tech's notoriously stout defense.

In a low-scoring affair, the visiting Hokies (2-1) escaped with a 15-10 win, while the Pirates (2-1) are left frustrated and with multiple concerns going into its open date.

"We have a lot of pride and we believe in ourselves," said ECU Head Coach Ruffin McNeill. "We expected to win the game today, so they are a little bit down. But that's what is to be expected of a team of this caliber and a team that has aspirations of accomplishing some things this year."

One of the marquee concerns was quarterback Shane Carden's three turnovers. Granted, Bud Foster's Hokie defense will likely be the most talented unit he faces this season, but Carden, who finished 19-for-31 on the afternoon, failed to cash-in on any of the numerous chances he had in the second half that may have led to a program-defining win.

Although the defense did more than what was initially asked of them, most of the Pirates' missed opportunities came on defense. Trailing 13-10 in the fourth quarter, Hokies quarterback Logan Thomas floated a pass towards the flat that instead hit ECU linebacker Montese Overton directly in the hands. If he hauled in the interception, Overton likely scores a go-ahead defensive touchdown, but instead, he dropped it.

Overton wasn't alone though. There were a couple plays that Pirate linebackers got hands on the ball, but were unable to force turnovers. Especially following a loss, these miscues are even more magnified and leave many wondering what could have been if particular plays broke differently.

"We dropped them, but if we would have caught them, you never know what would have changed," linebacker Zeek Bigger. "We could have taken off, you never know. Other than that, we played a good game."

A statistic that jumps off the stat sheet was Virginia Tech's dominance in the time of possession department. During the second half, the Hokies owned the ball for over 22 minutes, which mostly can be attributed to Thomas' efficiency on third down – the offense was 9-for-20 on third down conversions.

These lopsided numbers could explain why ECU's offense remained stagnant for the lion share of the game. Clearly, the Pirates' abbreviated amount of possession paid its toll on the offense as Carden never found his rhythm.

"It's very difficult," said Carden when asked about the difficult of staying sharp despite long stints on the sideline. "This offense definitely expects to score more than 10 (points). We just got to get our drives going, and flowing and just finish the drive."

ECU finished off its first drive of the game on a 22-yard touchdown pass from Carden to inside receiver Bryce Williams – which capped a 5 play, 75 yard drive.

Later in the first quarter, the Hokies drew even when Thomas found Demetri Knowles for a 30-yard touchdown on a long third-down-and-nine situation. In order to get separation from ECU cornerback Adonis Armstrong, Knowles executed a double move and was wide open.

Thomas finished 25-for-43 on his passes for 258 yards and two touchdowns.

In the latter stages of the first half, both Knowles and Armstrong were matched up again on a deep-ball try by Thomas. But this time around, Armstrong positioned his body appropriately to make an acrobatic interception for ECU's only turnover of the game.

"I came to sideline and (defensive coordinator Rick) Smith said ‘now you got to get an interception to make up for that (touchdown)'," said Armstrong. "It turned into a zone, he threw the ball, and I saw him trying to catch it and I just went up for it and took it out of his hands."

Armstrong's fellow cornerback, Josh Hawkins, was involved in a scary moment during the opening moments of the second half when he lowered his helmet to make a tackle and received an inadvertent a blow to the head from a teammate's knee.

Hawkins remained down on the field until he was taken off on stretcher and escorted to the hospital with concussion-like symptoms. He was later released from Vidant Medical Center later Saturday evening.

Another reason ECU was able to stay within striking distance of was the poor outing from Virginia Tech placekicker Cody Journell. His struggles on the Hokies' go-ahead score – a three-yard touchdown pass from Thomas to D.J. Coles – when he missed the extra point.

Things didn't get much better. In the fourth quarter alone, Journell missed two field goal attempts from inside forty yard and neither of the kicks were remotely close. He would have been 0-for-3 if not for an ECU running into the kicker penalty.

Virginia Tech didn't land its final blow until the game's last 90 seconds. Already pinned deep in his territory, Carden was flushed from behind and stripped in the endzone. ECU recovered the ball, but surrendered a safety.

The score extended Hokies' lead to 15-10 and forced the Pirates to try and unlikely onsides kick. The desperation kick didn't travel the required 10 yards, bounced out of bounds and sealed ECU's fate.

The Pirates return to action Sep. 28 against the North Carolina Tar Heels in Chapel Hill. Kickoff time has yet to be determined.

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