Carden's Career Comes Full Circle

GREENVILLE, N.C. — Shane Carden will return to the site his career as the Pirates’ starting quarterback began two years ago when ECU travels to Columbia, S.C. to face No. 21 South Carolina.

Two years ago, the Pirates filed through the cavernous corridors of Williams-Brice Stadium trailing the hosting South Carolina Gamecocks 21-0 as they entered the visiting locker room at halftime.

East Carolina’s starting quarterback Rio Johnson had just thrown an ill-advised interception in the waning moments of the first half and offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley had seen enough — Thus, beginning the Shane Carden era at ECU. Well, at least for one series.

While in the locker room, Riley informed the sophomore signal caller, who was slightly beat out by Johnson for the starting job just weeks prior, that he was going to start the second half.

With his nerves building up gradually, Carden tried to get prepared mentally. Moments later, he was heading back onto the field — in front of more than 77,000 screaming fans — as the Pirates began the second half with the ball.

“If I had to do it over again, I probably would have just waited until we got out onto the field so (the nerves) didn’t have time to build up,” Riley said.

After a small gain on first down, Carden saw an opportunity to check into a run play, but instead forced his first collegiate pass across the middle of the field.

It was intercepted. Then three plays later, the Gamecocks were back in the end zone to stretch their lead to 28-0.

Carden slumped his head as he returned to the sideline and received a tongue lashing from Riley, who turned back to Johnson. But it was to no avail. Four plays into the next series, Johnson threw his third interception — resulting in a 32-yard touchdown return — and, just like that, the game was out of hand at 35-0.

Carden was given another chance to gain game experience and played noticeably looser during his second stint in the humid afternoon heat. He was 12 of 16 for 140 yards on his remaining passes, which included his first career touchdown to Justin Hardy on a broken play.

“The one thing I remembered was he threw the pick, he came off and I ripped him. Then, he hung in there and didn’t let it really bother him,” Riley said. “I thought it showed some mental toughness there that I thought, in that environment, in that situation where we weren’t playing well, was something we could build on.”

Two days following the 48-10 loss to the Gamecocks, ECU coach Ruffin McNeill announced that he saw enough from Carden to name him his starting quarterback at Southern Miss that weekend and the rest is history.

Now a senior, Carden is a favorite to own virtually all of ECU’s passing records and returns to Columbia this weekend — where it all began — searching for his third career road victory against a “Power Five” conference opponent.

“It’d be big for this program,” Carden said of what a win at South Carolina would mean. “We love playing these out-of-conference schedules that are big. It’s a great opportunity for us to show the nation kind of what we’re about and why we consider ourselves the best offense in the country.”

However, unlike the schools’ meeting in 2012, South Carolina will be reeling after being exposed on its home field in a 52-28, season-opening loss to Texas A&M. Also, the “Head Ball Coach,” Steve Spurrier, and the rest of the Gamecocks are familiar with Carden and have centered their preparation on him this time around.

“We all know what he has done the last couple years there and he’s a very good player and an excellent passer,” Spurrier said of Carden during his weekly teleconference Sunday. “We’re going to be well tested on defense. That’s for sure.”

Nicknamed “Captain” by McNeill, Carden enters Saturday’s game as the unmistakable leader of the Pirates as he revisits the same field his collegiate career began. Only this time, he will not be overlooked. The spotlight will be cast upon him, and he’s ready for the stage.

“We’ve played in some loud stadiums last year that I think will obviously help us going into this. But, obviously, that stadium is very loud, there is a lot of people and a lot of fans that won’t like us.”

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