Four Downs: ECU-Virginia Tech

BLACKSBURG, VA — ECU completed its upset victory of Virginia Tech at Lane Stadium Saturday. Inside ECU Sports provides the game's four biggest story lines.

East Carolina captured a historic 28-21 victory against No. 17 Virginia Tech Saturday afternoon. Here are my four downs from Lane Stadium:

FIRST DOWN: OFFENSE RECAPTURES RHYTHM AT MOST OPPORTUNE TIME

Everything seemed all but lost for the Pirates. Their 21-point lead had completely evaporated with the Hokies tying the score on Michael Brewer’s 18-yard touchdown pass to Cam Phillips with 80 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

The noise inside Lane Stadium — one of the country’s most intimidating road environments — was deafening and everyone in the building knew Virginia Tech had all the momentum and that the Pirates had produced next to nothing offensively since their three-touchdown outburst in the first quarter.

At this point, ECU had more penalty yardage (84) in the second half than total yards on offense (68) and gone three and out on its previous two drives.

But just when it appeared the Pirates had squandered their chance at an upset win on the road, they caught a break. Virginia Tech kicker Joey Slye booted the kickoff out of bounds, giving ECU the ball at the 35 yard-line.

Then, all of the sudden, the Pirates recaptured the same rhythm that they had early in the game.

It took just three plays. First, a 31-yard catch by Cam Worthy, who finished with a game-high 224 yards on six catches, in single coverage. Then it was Worthy for 28 more yards to the Virginia Tech one yard-line. And rather than bleeding the clock and attempting a last-second field goal, Carden raced the Pirates up to line and scored on a quarterback sneak.

In a matter of moments, ECU had risen from the depths of disappointment into the lead, 28-21, with 16 seconds remaining.

When asked why he went for the touchdown — leaving time on the clock for the Hokies — instead of going with the more conservative approach and settling for last-second field goal try, fifth-year ECU coach Ruffin McNeill said, “That’s what we do, dawg.”

SECOND DOWN: PIRATES CRUISE OUT OF THE GATES

A week ago, ECU quarterback Shane Carden was surrounded by reporters on the field at Williams-Brice Stadium and spoke about how the Pirates’ missed opportunities early against Gamecocks — ECU drove into the red-zone on its first two drives but was forced to settle for field goals — cost them in the end.

And when the same chance presented itself against the Hokies Saturday, Carden and the offense capitalized by attacking Bud Foster’s defensive backfield down the field.

The Pirates marched more than 70 yards on their first two drives that were both capped off by Carden touchdown passes. Later in the quarter, Carden hit Isaiah Jones in the flat for a two-yard score and ECU led 21-0 and had outgained Virginia Tech by nearly 200 yards (205-14) after 15 minutes.

“Coming in there and scoring touchdowns when you get down there in the first quarter, rather than field goals like last week was big for us,” Carden said.

THIRD DOWN: SELF-INFLICTED WOUNDS NEARLY PROVE FATAL

Following their dominant start, the Pirates had plenty of golden opportunities to put the Hokies away in the second quarter. But due to sloppy execution and in some cases outright carelessness, ECU was unable to score any points on three consecutive possessions that positioned the Pirates inside the Hokies’ 20 yard-line.

First it was McNeill’s surprising decision to keep the offense on the field and attempt a fourth-and-two at the Virginia Tech 11 yard-line. Carden found a slanting Jones over the middle, but the sophomore couldn’t hold on.

Three plays after the Hokies dodged a bullet, Brewer forced a pass over the middle that was intercepted by ECU cornerback Josh Hawkins. On the next play, Carden sprinted towards the end zone on a rare option run, but was stripped from behind at the last moment and All-Atlantic Coast Conference cornerback Kendall Fuller recovered the fumble at the one yard-line.

Now backed up and facing heavy pressure, Brewer was flushed towards the back of the end zone and forced a pass down the sideline that was picked off again by Hawkins. However, the offense still could not slam the door on the hosting Hokies, stalling out in three plays to set up Warren Harvey’s missed 37-yard field goal.

“We should have had more in the second quarter. I think we left a lot of points on the board right there and that was disappointing,” Carden said.

On top of the missed chances, the Pirates were also flagged for an alarming 13 penalties for 114 yards.

FOURTH DOWN: A GAME FOR THE RECORD BOOKS

The Pirates’ victory over the Hokies represents the program’s first win against a ranked opponent since it defeated No. 18 Houston in the 2009 Conference USA Championship. ECU’s last win over a ranked team on the road was at No. 12 Miami (Fla.) in 1996.

Carden became the school’s all-time career leader for touchdowns and completions, while also eclipsing James Pinkney to move into second place on the career passing yards list.

Worthy’s 224 receiving yards were six shy of tying Justin Hardy’s single-game record at Tulane last season and marked the senior receiver’s first 100-plus yard receiving performance.

The Pirates have now won three consecutive games against ACC opponents dating back to last year’s victories against North Carolina and N.C. State. They will have an opportunity to stretch that streak to four games when the Tar Heels visit Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium next weekend.

“After this win, we probably will still be underrated, but that’s how we play,” Hawkins said. “We come out and we fight. Even when we’re down, we fight. Even when we’re up, we continue to fight. That’s how we operate.”


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