Tulane trips up Pirates

ECU rallied from ten points down in the fourth quarter, but fell, 36-33, to Tulane at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome Saturday.

Even in victory, the East Carolina football team has always had a difficult time in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Saturday was no different. Only this time, Tulane (5-2, 3-0 C-USA) snapped its five game losing slump against the Pirates (4-2, 2-1 C-USA) with a, 36-33, win in triple overtime.

But that isn't to say ECU didn't have ample opportunities to take hold of the game.

Pirates senior place-kicker Warren Harvey hooked a 42-yard field goal attempt wide left that would have won the game in regulation and in triple overtime, missed a 35-yard attempt to the right. His final miss set up the game-winning kick from 2012 Lou Groza Award winner Cairo Santos.

Harvey was 4-for-7 on his field goal tries, while Santos was 5-for-6. But after the game, ECU stood behind its kicker.

"I will just tell him that it is absolutely not his fault that we lost the game," said ECU quarterback Shane Carden. "It is never just one man, especially in football. We had plenty of opportunities to win. I understand he is going to be down but we are going to learn from this game

It wasn't just field goals either. In regulation alone, ECU drove into the red-zone six times and only one touchdown came out of it. Senior tailback Vintavious Cooper scored on a goal-line carry with 1:48 left in the fourth quarter to knot the game up at, 19-19.

If that wasn't bad enough, the Pirates' struggles inside the Green Wave 20-yard line led directly to the Green Wave's lone touchdown. Trailing 9-6, Carden forced a pass into the end-zone that was intercepted by cornerback Derrick Strozier and returned 99 yards for a touchdown.

ECU outgained Tulane in yardage, 543-310, wide receiver Justin Hardy collected a career-best 17 receptions for a school-record 230 yards and Carden nearly threw for 500 yards (488). But it wasn't enough.

"That was a tough loss. The kids are taking it pretty hard," said Head Coach Ruffin McNeill. "There were a lot of opportunities before overtime. I was proud how we fell down by ten points and fought back. I thought we made some good decisions to give us a chance to win in the end.

"You have to make plays and we came up short. But, I like the way the kids kept fighting."

After regulation concluded, both offenses began punching in touchdowns, instead of settling for field goals. On the first play of overtime, Reese Wiggins got behind the defense and Carden found him for 25-yard touchdown connection that put ECU in front 26-19.

Two plays later, Tulane answered with its own 25-yard touchdown – freshman signal caller Devin Powell, who was making his first collegiate start, hit a wide-open Ryan Grant to force a second overtime.

In the second, extra session, the Pirates and Green Wave traded blows again. First, Powell connected with Grant again for a 6-yard touchdown. Powell finished 23-for-39 with 224 yards passing. Then, ECU drove inside the Tulane five-yard line, before Cooper barreled into the end-zone for a two-yard score.

After being knocked out of last weekend's game at Middle Tennessee State with concussion-like symptoms, Cooper rushed for 87 yards on 22 carries.

ECU appeared to be poised for pay-dirt in triple overtime, but had a first-down catch-and-run by Isaiah Jones inside the five yard line negated by a Wiggins holding penalty. Then, before the next play, ECU continued to move backwards when it was flagged for an illegal substitution, which set up Harvey's miss.

Tulane Head Coach Curtis Johnson didn't waste any time bringing out Santos for the winning field goal. He attempted the kick on first down.

There weren't any fireworks in the first half as both team notched a pair of field goals and went into halftime deadlocked at 6-6. The Green Wave began the third quarter with a promising drive into the ECU red-zone, but Powell overshot an open receiver and was intercepted by strong safety Damon Magazu. It was his second pick of the season.

Freshman wide receiver Davon Grayson left the game with an apparent knee injury. Early speculation is that he may have torn a ligament and could miss the rest of the season.

ECU will return home next Saturday to host Southern Miss, who will bring in the country's largest losing streak (17). Kick-off time is set for Noon from Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

"The 24 hour rule is in effect. Our goal is still in front of us," said McNeill. "We will start getting ready for (Sunday) night. We will evaluate film, make corrections and move on."

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