The Pirates won, 55-14, at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium Saturday afternoon and outgained the Golden Eagles by over 200 yards (ECU: 476, Southern Miss: 233).
It was a game featuring two programs moving in completely opposite directions. ECU (5-2, 3-1 C-USA) enters its second open date on a high note, while Southern Miss' nation-worst losing streak is extended to 18 games.
Saturday's lop-sided win by the Pirates marks the last scheduled meeting between these rival programs. A rivalry that dates back to 1951.
"Today was about respect for their program," said ECU coach Ruffin McNeill. "(In) Southern Miss (and) Hattieburg, they love that program like Pirates love our program. We're so similar natured.
"I'm proud of the competition, I was glad we won the game and I got a lot of respect for that program."
Being in front of its home fans for the first time since Sep. 14, ECU jumped all over the Golden Eagles early and often. But unlike last week's loss in New Orleans, the Pirates scored touchdowns in the red-zone, instead of settling for field goals – they found the end-zone on four of their first five drives without an answer.
Interestingly, each of these scores occurred on third down plays. It all started with Justin Hardy's spectacular one-handed touchdown grab that put ECU in front 7-0. After having an apparent one-handed score called back against Florida Atlantic earlier this season, Hardy found the official this time around.
"I knew I had it, I just had to make sure (the official) knew I had it," said Hardy, who finished with 10 catches, 126 yards. "Last time I tried to do it, they got it incomplete."
Southern Miss appeared poised for an early response when running back Tyre Bracken sprinted for 35 yards to the ECU 22 yard line on its first play from scrimmage. The momentum was quickly extinguished on Corey Acosta's missed 38-yard field goal attempt.
Carden capitalized with another touchdown pass on the other end. On a broken play, he found freshman receiver Isaiah Jones for an 11-yard score on third down.
On its next possession, ECU caught the Southern Miss defense by surprise on third-and-17 from the Golden Eagles 21 yard line. Instead of passing, Carden handed the ball to tailback Vintavious Cooper, who broke a pair of tackles and barreled into the end-zone.
"As it happened, I looked up and it was like ‘yeah, it's that play,'" said Cooper. "I saw a lot of penetration coming through the middle. Well, I was like that's not a place we're going, so I bounced to left, got up-field, made a guy miss, touchdown."
ECU led 31-0 at half-time and with the Pirates in front 45-0 in the third quarter, McNeill called off the dogs and put in his reserves. A decision that did not slow the offense down at first – ECU tacked on a touchdown and a field goal to go ahead 55-0 – but was a sign of respect from one program to another.
Given their spikes in playing time, numerous players had a chance to step in and made plays. Freshman wide receiver DaQuan Barnes hauled in his first three collegiate receptions and rushed for 12 yards on a reverse. Meanwhile, JUCO transfer Breon Allen rushed for 44 yards and scored his first touchdown as a Pirate.
"The kids that played, they all do the conditioning … so it's a chance to get kids some valuable reps," said McNeill. "In front of a crowd, on TV with referees officiating, you can't beat those reps. They are very valuable to us."
ECU had not shut out an opponent since its home opener against Duke in 2000, but it was not to be on Saturday. Southern Miss finally reached pay-dirt in the fourth quarter when freshman quarterback Nick Mullens hit Jalen Richard for a 15-yard touchdown. The Golden Eagles added their second and final score with 2:18 left in the game.
ECU now goes into its second open date of the season with a good taste in its mouth. Its next game is Nov. 2 at Florida International.
"When I looked at the schedule, I think the bye weeks work perfectly for us," said McNeill. "We'll be able to coach them up next week, get a little head-start on our opponent, coaches will take off on the road Wednesday (or) Thursday night and get into recruiting and we'll resume on Friday, getting ready for next time."