Pirates crush Hurricane on homecoming

GREENVILLE, N.C. – Due in large-part to turnovers and an efficient offense, ECU coasted past Tulsa, 58-24, for a win on homecoming.

When the 2013 schedule was released, Saturday's game between the East Carolina football team and the Tulsa Golden Hurricane was circled as a possible Conference USA Championship game preview.

Going into gameday, we knew that would not be the case.

The Pirates eliminated the defending C-USA champions (2-7, 1-4 C-USA) from bowl consideration with a 58-24 win at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. More importantly, ECU (7-2, 5-1 C-USA) remains atop the East Division of C-USA.

Its quarterback, Shane Carden, turned in another stellar performance. He completed 34 of his 50 passes for 384 yards and five touchdowns and scored twice on quarterback sneaks for seven total touchdowns.

For the fourth time this season, wide receiver Justin Hardy recorded at least 10 catches – 10 receptions for 99 yards and a touchdown – including his 23rd career touchdown catch, which broke the school record for touchdown receptions.

The record was previously held by Hardy's former roommate and current Washington Redskins receiver Lance Lewis.

"He was my big brother when I came in," said Hardy. "He taught me everything really, like (learning) to get open. He just wanted me to be better and being roommates, I asked him questions any time I had one and he led me in the right direction."

Hardy's current roommate, freshman Isaiah Jones, had a coming out party during the Pirates' homecoming game. Jones, the son of ECU-great and Superbowl winner Robert Jones, had his first 100-yard receiving and multi-touchdown performance – eight receptions for 104 yards – and just as Lewis was to Hardy, Jones said Hardy has been a mentor to him along the way.

"Justin has been one of the key reasons why I'm successful because he's always on me, he's always helping me and any time I need his advice, he's there for me," said Jones.

As it has done in each of its nine games, ECU received the ball first, but for the first time this season, was unable to score on its first possession. Instead, it turned the ball over on downs at the Tulsa 23-yard line, rather than attempting a 40-yard field goal.

Tulsa's offense capitalized on the Pirates' miscue and opened scoring with running back Trey Watts plunging into the end-zone on a one-yard run. Watts finished with a game-best 120 rushing yards on 27 carries.

The Golden Hurricane's lead would not last long. ECU marched 75 yards in just over two minutes to tie the game, capped by Carden's goal-line keeper from under-center.

In the second quarter, Carden gave the Pirates their first lead on a 28-yard touchdown pass to Cam Worthy. Then, just before half-time, ECU's defense made a pivotal play. Linebacker Zeek Bigger jumped in front of red-shirt freshman Dane Evan's pass for his first career interception.

"We've played a couple teams that have run that same exact route and we came up on our film this week and saw that same exact route," said Bigger. "When I saw it, I just thought about breaking on the ball, which I did."

On the next play, Carden hit Jones on a slant and the freshman did the rest. He eluded Tulsa defenders and scored on an 18-yard catch and run to put ECU in front 21-10. The Pirates would take that lead into halftime.

Both teams traded scores in the third quarter and it was not until ECU's defense forced another turnover that this trend would end.

Trailing 35-17, Evans dropped to pass and was blind-sided by ECU outside linebacker Montese Overton. The collision forced a fumble that was recovered by defensive lineman Lee Pegues. Three plays later, Carden hooked up with Bryce Williams on a five-yard touchdown to make it 42-17, and subsequently put the game out of reach.

Tulsa's final score was on a failed bubble screen by ECU's offense. Lance Ray was hit as he secured the catch and fumbled. The loose ball was then picked up by Golden Hurricane defensive back Will Barrow and taken 37 yards for a fumble-return for a touchdown.

The last time these teams met, the game ended on a last-second hail mary for a game-winning touchdown for the Pirates in 2010. Fittingly, Saturday's game closed on a last-second score, but this time it was the defense stepping up once more.

ECU freshman defensive back Deshaun Amos intercepted third-string quarterback Joseph Calcagni in the end-zone and took it back 100 yards, tying a school-record, for a score as time expired.

ECU will stay at home next Saturday when Alabama-Birmingam visits Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Kickoff time is set for 2 p.m.

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