East Carolina’s postseason meeting with the Florida Gators provides the team with an opportunity at a program-defining win. It’s been 15 years since the last time ECU defeated a member of the Southeastern Conference, so a win in the Birmingham Bowl on Jan. 3 would be an impactful way to cap off the season.
The last time ECU defeated an SEC team was September 1999. The Pirates earned a 21-3 victory on the road against a team that would finish 0-11 that year.
The most recent SEC loss came on the road against South Carolina. The Gamecocks claimed a 33-23 win, but ECU proved it can hang with most teams.
“We’re always happy to play SEC teams,” said junior linebacker Zeek Bigger. “We fell short against South Carolina this year. I think we gave them all we could and they gave us all they could give. I think we can play with just about anybody.”
ECU has typically been aggressive with its non-conference scheduling. This season, the Pirates found themselves in the national spotlight after beating a ranked Virginia Tech on the road and thrashing North Carolina at home. Now they have the chance to make waves again.
“It would mean a lot,” said sophomore receiver Isaiah Jones. “Not just because they’re an SEC opponent, but because it’s the next game. We need this win. Things haven’t turned out the way we wanted it. We have a great story that’s being written for us and it would be awesome to finish this season out on a high note.”
The story was the Pirates emerging as the top Group of Five team. Consecutive losses at Temple and at Cincinnati put them out of contention for the American Athletic Conference championship and cost them their top-25 status.
Even though none of that is on the table anymore, there’s still a story to be told. ECU gets another chance to stand out on the national stage against a strong program.
“They’re the Florida Gators. Everybody knows about the Florida Gators,” said senior nose tackle Terry Williams. “It’d be a big-time thing for the program…We’re not afraid to play anyone in the country. We’re Pirates and we’re always ready to play.”
On top of that, this game gives the team a chance to send its seniors off on a high note after a disappointing end to senior night. ECU stormed back in the fourth quarter against UCF only to lose the game on a last-second Hail Mary.
“It’s big for the program and for the seniors,” said senior linebacker Brandon Williams. “We want to send the seniors out on the right note and finish the season off right, too.”
For the time being, the Pirates aren’t letting themselves get caught up in the hype. Head coach Ruffin McNeill is keeping his team focused on the next day of practice instead of looking too far ahead to the game.