A season filled with close calls and what could have beens was brought to an end when ECU (8-5) lost Saturday’s Birmingham Bowl to Florida (9-4), after senior quarterback Shane Carden’s final chance for a comeback was intercepted by standout corner Vernon Hargreaves III.
The loss was the byproduct of ECU’s inability to capitalize on opportunities, just like seemingly every loss the Pirates suffered this season. With it all said and done, the season left those who witnessed it with the question of “What if?”
What if the Pirates built off of their 6-1 start to the season, which earned them the No. 18 ranking in the Associated Press Poll, instead of losing four out of their last six games? What if the Pirates didn’t drop a tough loss to Temple midway through the season?
At this point, the important question to ask is where did the season start to unravel? A case can be made for when ECU received a top 20 ranking in mid-October, when the trajectory of the season took a disturbing turn for the worst when November rolled around.
On Nov. 1 the Pirates lost to Temple 20-10 inside rainy Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, P.A., putting the ball on the ground eight times, five of which were lost to the opposition.
Over the next six games the Pirates committed uncharacteristic turnovers, shot themselves in the foot with offensive penalties, and seemed to have lost the ability to score in the red zone.
All of those recurring themes showed up in the Pirates loss to the Gators. ECU was in Florida territory four times in the first half, resulting in zero points and when the defense forced four straight three and outs late in the second half, the offense failed to produce any touchdowns.
Carden was upset with the outcome, but doesn’t believe it sums up his accomplishments.
“Losing is tough, but I am not going to look back on my career and think it was a disappointment because we lost the last game,” said Carden. “We’ve done a lot of good things together as a senior group.”
Regardless of the team’s overall record this season, the body of work by star seniors Carden and Justin Hardy is unmatched by any to wear the Pirate uniform and their names are forever etched into the record books.
Carden broke his single-season record for passing yards, finishing with 4,736 and became the only Pirate quarterback to have more than 10,000 passing yards in a career; amassing 11,991 during his time at ECU.
Hardy not only holds the record for career receptions in NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision history with 387, but his 160-yard performance against the Gators also moved him into third all-time in FBS history with 4,541 yards.
After the loss ECU coach Ruffin McNeill sat with his star seniors for the last time in front of the media and defended their legacy.
“Look at the body of work, not today’s work,” Ruffin McNeill said. “[Carden and Hardy] have done so many positive things for this university. They left behind a blueprint and mold that I will use for as long as East Carolina keeps me.”