GREENVILLE, N.C. — Looking back on the 2014 ECU football season, there are several snapshots that stick out. Here are our top three moments of the year.
The Pirates didn’t finish the 2014 season the way they would have liked — East Carolina
lost four of its last six games after starting 6-1 — but that shouldn’t dilute what will still go down as one of the more memorable falls in program history.
Every season is filled with a series of snapshots, moments really, that stand out and make it unique. These are the moments that, upon the brief mentioning of a particular team or year, instantly trigger in your mind.
In the almost immediate aftermath of the season’s end, here is our list of the top three snapshots of the 2014 ECU football season:
3. PIRATES WIN THRILLER IN BLACKSBURG
There’s no doubt ECU’s 28-21 victory against then No. 17 ranked Virginia Tech lost its luster when the Hokies limped to a 7-6 finish and the Pirates struggled down the stretch. But at the time, that win at Lane Stadium on Sep. 13 was viewed as a program-defining moment for fifth-year coach Ruffin McNeill
|Shane Carden scores the game-winning touchdown against Virginia Tech on September 13.|
It was the Pirates’ first road win against a ranked opponent since 1996 and the manner in which the game was won sealed it as one the year’s most memorable snapshots.
After scoring 21 first-quarter points to take a commanding lead, Hokies coordinator Bud Foster’s defense made adjustments and stymied the Pirates — holding ECU scoreless for nearly the remainder of regulation —which allowed Virgnia Tech's offense enough time to rally and tie the game with just over a minute left to go.
And with Lane Stadium literally shaking due to crowd noise from Hokie fans, who smelled blood in the water with overtime seemingly imminent, Virginia Tech kicker Joey Slye made a costly error — booting the ensuing kickoff out of bounds.
Then, suddenly, the Pirates, who had more penalty yardage (68) than total yards (64) up to this point in the second half, recaptured the rhythm that they began the game playing with on offense.
It took just three plays. Two strikes to Cam Worthy, who finished with six catches for 227 yards, for 64 yards down to the Virginia Tech 1 yard-line, then senior Shane Carden took it in himself with 17 seconds left to capture the historic road win.
2. HARDY BREAKS FBS RECORD FOR CATCHES
Going into a Nov. 22 matchup with Tulane, East Carolina’s dreams of an “Access Bowl” bid were already extinguished and its chances for a conference championship were slim. As a result, the large pull of interest surrounding the game rested almost exclusively on the shoulders of ECU receiver Justin Hardy
, who needed just four catches to become the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision’s career leader in receptions.
Hardy, a senior who began his ECU career as a walk-on quarterback from nearby Vanceboro, N.C., had at least two catches in every collegiate game he had played, so there was little doubt that he would break the record against the Green Wave in front of the Pirates’ faithful at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
Carden looked Hardy’s way early on, completing two passes to his go-to target on the first drive of the game. Two drives later, Hardy snagged another catch for 27 yards to tie the record. Then, in the latter stages of the first half, the moment finally arrived.
On 2nd and 5, Carden hit Hardy on an eight-yard curl for career catch No. 350; eclipsing the mark set by Oklahoma’s Ryan Broyles in 2011.
Fitting to the kind of player Hardy is, there was nothing sexy about the play. It was just a simple, yet effective play that the duo had executed so many times, to the point you feel like they could do it again in their sleep.
However, what happened next spoke to the kind of person Hardy was. The game wasn’t stopped initially to recognize Hardy as the Pirates’ offense rushed to the line of scrimmage with most of the home crowd on its feet cheering — fifth-year coordinator Lincoln Riley
later said it was the first time he remembered going with a silent snap count at home — to continue the drive that eventually stalled at the goal line.
Following a Tulane three-and-out, Hardy finally stepped into the spotlight. While the crowd gave college football's most prolific pass catcher another loud ovation, McNeill put his arm around Hardy and pointed towards the Murphy Center, where a large banner of Hardy had just been draped off the side of the building that read, “Justin Hardy: FBS Career Receptions Leader.” Then McNeill told him, “Your dad is looking down on you and smiling.” Hardy’s father, Sam, suffered a fatal heart attack in Feb. 2013.
ECU went on to win the game, 34-6, but when asked to recount his thoughts immediately after breaking one of the most significant receiving records, Hardy — true to form — said simply, “We need to score.”
1. NORTH CAROLINA
|Trevon Brown catches the second of his two touchdowns against UNC.|
You could pick any moment of East Carolina’s 70-41 thumping of the Tar Heels on Sep. 20 and it would be the correct answer.
The final score itself; the school-record 789 yards the Pirates rolled on offense; Zeek Bigger
’s interception return for a touchdown; Breon Allen
’s 42-yard touchdown run on 3rd and 28; so on and so forth.
The message was sent early on when, three plays from scrimmage, Carden found Trevon Brown a step behind the Tar Heel secondary and hit the freshman receiver for a 55-yard score. Carden was 30 for 48 for 438 yards passing and accounted for six touchdowns (four passing, two rushing). Allen rushed for a career-best 211 yards with two touchdowns.
Before a Dowdy-Ficklen-record 51,082 fans, ECU delivered a beatdown for the ages. And in doing so, the Pirates could have maybe, just maybe, dismissed all the “little brother” narratives — at least for now — that have long been attached to them with their first pair of back-to-back wins against the Tar Heels in school history.
The benchmark victory also provided the last bit of evidence the Pirates needed to convince Associated Press voters that they belonged, at the time, amongst the nation’s top 25 teams. It marked the first time the program was nationally ranked since 2008.
After six straight years of playing each other, ECU and UNC are not scheduled to meet again until 2018 and the future of the “rivalry” is unclear after that. But until then, Pirate fans will own in-state bragging rights with the 55-31 road win in 2013 and this resounding rout at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
CARDEN SURPASSES DAVID GARRARD: In the program’s first ever American Athletic Conference game, Carden passed ECU legend David Garrard for first place on the school’s career passing list. He broke the record on a 30-yard throw to Isaiah Jones
and the Pirates went on to beat the SMU Mustangs 45-24 at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Oct. 4.
UCF HAIL MARY: Yes, it didn’t turn out in ECU’s favor, but when the 2014 season is reduced to just a couple snapshots, the image of three ECU defensive players going up for a pass that eventually miraculously fell into the hands of Breshad Perriman for the game-winning score will be one that is remembered for a long time; Especially when you add the context of it occurring on Carden and Hardy’s “Senior Night” and the play-calling of ECU’s last offensive series.