Shane Carden, who finished with 438 passing yards and accounted for six touchdowns (four passing and two rushing), set the tone early on. On the third play of the game, he launched a 55-yard pass to true freshman Trevon Brown, who hauled it in for the game's first touchdown. The drive lasted just 56 seconds before the Pirates found the end zone.
Brown finished with five catches for 117 yards and a pair of touchdowns in his first game as starter. He also contributed on special teams by returning four kickoffs for 93 yards.
“He kind of reminds me of when Hardy first got here,” said Carden regarding Brown. “He's got the route running, he has the ball skills and he has the speed. He's done a great job with the ball. I'm looking forward to watching him.”
Fifth-year head coach Ruffin McNeill added, “Trevon is doing a great job. I attribute that to Shane. Trevon keeps working at his game and he believes in watching film. I love to see him catch it, but I love to see him block downfield. I'm proud of his contributions to the team. We need him to keep getting better.”
Brown wasn't the only gem among the receiving corps on Saturday. Isaiah Jones caught eight passes for 116 yards and a score, marking the fourth time in his young career he's surpassed the century mark. Justin Hardy also had six catches for 92 yards.
They filled the gap left by Cam Worthy, who's two-game suspension was announced prior to the game. The senior wide receiver was just coming off of a career game versus Virginia Tech.
ECU's run game was just as focused as its passing. Breon Allen had a career game as he ran for 211 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His performance is the best ECU has seen since Chris Johnson ran for 233 versus Boise State in the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl. True freshman Anthony Scott also got 12 carries and collected 44 yards.
“It was awesome. He ran great,” said Carden. “I'm pretty mad he didn't get to score on that real long run (in the third quarter). I did the QB sneak. I said, 'It's yours! Just score!' … He's doing great. Breon's a great guy for this team and he had an awesome night.”
The Pirates played just as well on defense as they did on offense. The 41 points scored isn't indicative of how well the defense performed. Zeek Bigger led the squad in tackles (17 total and seven solo) en route to shattering his personal best.
“It's a blessing,” said Bigger following the game. “I really give thanks to the man up above...I just go out here and play. I don't play for the stats. I just go out here and play for my team. That defensive line is hectic. I love them boys because, without them, I couldn't do what I do.”
Bigger made one of the game's most impactful plays when he came out in the beginning of the second half and intercepted Marquise Williams' pass and returned it 46 yards for a touchdown. With that, he picked off whatever momentum the Tar Heels had.
“It's something we practiced,” said Bigger. “It was an under route. I knew (Brandon Williams), my next linebacker beside me was on a blitz. I knew he was going and I knew the pressure was on. So, I knew he didn't have any time. He had no time to throw it to anyone else but that person. So I jumped it. I didn't have a doubt in my mind that's where it was going.”
The Pirates had a record 51,082 audience watching on as they earned what will prove to be a program-defining win. The scene was ideal for the result and the players could feel Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium rocking throughout.
“It was crazy,” said defensive back Domonique Lennon, who notched five tackles (one solo). “You could hardly hear. The ground was shaking a little bit and everybody was trying to get the calls. You can't even hear yourself thing.”
Saturday's game marks the fourth-consecutive win for ECU versus Atlantic Coast Conference opponents. The streak started last year in Chapel Hill and, since then, the Pirates have also beaten North Carolina State and No. 17 Virginia Tech.
ECU's next game will mark its inaugural conference game in the American Athletic Conference. The Pirates have a bye week following this game and will host Southern Methodist on October 4.