Reminiscing - WFU-ECU '97

With the September 1 matchup against Wake just ten days away, I drifted back to the last time the Deacs & Pirates squared off four years ago. It was ECU's home opener (following a 24-17 loss at WVU), & as expected, it was hotter than Hades.

Unfortunately my season seating was the worst ever, located on the 10-yard line on the north-side, due to the upper-deck project not being finished as scheduled. Still, a then record crowd of 38,031 filled the stands as the Deacs became the first ACC school to visit Greenville since, you guessed it, Wake Forest back in 1963. Needless to say, this was a special deal to the Pirate faithful.

As the game began however, it became apparent that the players were either too pumped or uninterested. After exchanging punts, Wake marched down the field, scoring on a 13-yard pass from Kuklick to Deese. Wake 7, ECU 0. Before the quarter had ended, Wake hit paydirt again with a 1-yard lunge by Kane. Wake 14, ECU 0. On Wake's next possession, Kuklick ran it in himself from 2-yards for another TD. Wake 21, ECU 0.

At this point, I was in a state of shock. This could not be happening. I had witnessed beatings before, BAD beatings, but to be down 21-0 to Wake less than 21 minutes into our own home opener was embarrassing.

ECU came up empty again on its next possession. Lukily for us, the ECU defense took over. They stuffed the run & began to set up shop in the Deacs passing backfield, as Rod Coleman sacked Kuklick (just one of eight Pirate sacks on the day), forcing a fumble that Kendrick Phillips recovered at Wake's 11-yard line. Quickly Logan went to the bag of tricks & Romando North dashed in untouched on a reverse on ECU's first play. Wake 21, ECU 7.

Logan wasn't done yet. The Pirates executed a perfect onside kick, as Perez Mattison gained possession at the Wake 47. Five plays later, Jamie Wilson found paydirt on a 9-yard scamper to pull ECU within 21-13. Unfortunately, the kicking game failed, & the 8-point deficit stood. The score remained the same until halftime & through the end of the third quarter.

On ECU's first fourth-qurter possession, Danny Gonzalez took over. Gonzalez & Troy Smith connected several times on a 10-play 79-yard drive, finished by a Gonzalez to Smith TD from 33-yards out. The two-point conversion failed, & the score was Wake 21, ECU 19.

Wake responded with a drive of its own, adding three points on a 30-yard FG with 6:28 remaining to make it 24-19. ECU then marched 76 yards on 7 plays to take the lead. Gonzalez connected with Smith twice more for 21 & 41 yards, then found Scott Harley in the endzone for a six-yard toss to make it 25-24. Again the two-point conversion failed, but with 3:44 remaining, ECU had its first lead of the game.

The defense made it stand, as Coleman sacked Kuklick for an ECU record 4th time, & Tabari "Snoop" Wallace intercepted a Kuklick pass four plays later.

Looking back at the stat sheet, Gonzalez passed for 269 yards & 2 TD's, looking frequently in the direction of Smith (168 yards receiving on 7 catches with one TD). Harley & Wilson had a rare decent running day for 1997, combining for 103 yards on 23 carries & one TD. Defensively, in addition to Coleman's 4 sacks, Travis Darden added 3 of his own. As usual, Jeff Kerr led the Pirates in tackles (along with Eric Reyes & Matt Semenza) with 8. And just another day at the office for Andrew Bayes, who averaged 44.7 yards per punt on the day.

Thank goodness those Pirate heroes stepped up & rescued us from what could have been the ugliest ECU home contest ever. The 21-point comeback matches the 1995 effort against Syracuse as the largest deficits ECU has overcome to paint it purple. Let us hope that such an miracle isn't required on September 1.


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