FOUR DOWNS: TEMPLE
FIRST DOWN: ECU FAILS TO EXECUTE LATE Where do we begin here? 55 minutes went by in a rather uneventful blur but East Carolina’s eventual meltdown began with 5:59 left in the ball game, while the team was holding a 14-10 lead. Two blocked punts, an intentional grounding and a lack of effort defensively ruined the would-be conference win for the hosting Pirates and sent the black-clad fans packing with a spoiled taste in their mouths. The No. 22 Temple Owls took a 24-14 victory despite being hardly noticeable for nearly 50 minutes. Senior running back Chris Hairston said what anybody watching the game already knew; Temple didn’t win that game, the Pirates simply gave it away. As if Hairston isn’t credible enough, Temple headman Matt Rhule gave a painfully honest assessment of his own. “I told the East Carolina kids as they left that in many ways they out played us and they probably deserved to win the game,” he said. Worth Gregory, one of the conference’s best punters, and the rest of the special team’s unit had not one, but two punts blocked in back-to-back possessions late in the game. Sure, the Owls deserve credit for getting into the backfield and getting hands on the ball but two consecutive blocked punts falls on the kicking team as well. Head coach Ruffin McNeill couldn’t decide what to do with his quarterback limbo late in the game despite Kemp being the guy for a majority of it and inserted Summers into the game late in the fourth quarter, trying to seal the win. It backfired. The drive consumed a whopping 90 seconds and gave the Owls ample time to mount a comeback, which of course happened thanks to a seven-play, 71-yard drive that looked about as easy as any scored against the Pirates this season. Kemp never came out in the same rhythm, despite being tasked with bringing the Pirates back from the jaws of defeat. An intentional grounding on the first play of the drive in which they were down, ECU failed to move the ball in any direction but back and set up the eventual second blocked punt. The collapse marked a significant three-sides-of-the-ball meltdown in a game the Pirates controlled. SECOND DOWN: PENALTIES CONTINUE TO KILL MOMENTUM A combined 21 penalties for 213 yards once again reminded ECU fans that this team has yet to learn form its mistakes. The penalties were a big issue last year, and have continued to be this season. ECU committed nine infractions Thursday for 99 yards. To put that into perspective that’s four more penalty yards than rushing yards for the Pirates. While some of the calls were questionable at best, both teams failed to keep their laundry off the field and the Pirates, despite committing three less penalties than the Owls, found themselves on the losing end of the spectrum. It’s a completely different feel when a team overcomes penalties to win a ball game, but to succumb to the adversity only makes the pill harder to swallow. Expect to see some refs at practice next week; otherwise the penalties will likely remain a thorn in ECU’s side. THIRD DOWN: QUARTERBACK CAROUSEL NEEDS RE-EVALUATED The day has finally come for the ECU coaching staff. For the first time all season both quarterbacks struggled in the same game. Summers, who got the start, finished just 2-of-4 with 40 total yards and was pulled early in the first quarter after two ineffective drives. Kemp didn’t necessarily struggle, (31-of-48 for 272 yards, one touchdown and one interception) but he couldn’t successfully move the offense. The game marked the 15th consecutive occasion in which ECU lost when scoring 20 or less points and it’s a wakeup call to the Pirates offense. Temple’s defense is arguably the best in the conference, but ECU failed to get into a grove and was shutout in the second half. That’s not good news for a team that lives off of its offense. The Kemp-Summers limbo has finally reached a tipping point and neither quarterback has grabbed the job. This game certainly won’t decide anything but the Pirates can’t afford to keep tiptoeing around the situation. The quarterback conundrum went from a strength to a question mark and the spotlight is brighter than ever on everyone involved. FOURTH DOWN: UP HILL CLIMB FROM HERE It’s not all down and out for ECU. The Pirates have four AAC games remaining to boost its resume but the conference-leading Owls now own a two-game lead over ECU with five games left. There’s still a lot to play for. ECU has knocked out the bulk of its toughest games and seems bowl bound. It’s demoralizing to be within five minutes of a tie for first in the conference but ultimately this is a team that has had so many close calls, and has had to overcome costly injuries. Only one of the four losses has been in convincing fashion and the fact of the matter remains that the Pirates could very well be 7-1 at this point in the season if a handful of things went differently. Shoulda, coulda, woulda, however. The Pirates have road games with Connecticut and UCF looming and home bouts with USF and Cincinnati. All four of the games are likely to favor ECU and while their conference hopes now rest squarely on the shoulders of the Owls’ opponents, the Pirates have a chance to salvage their season and perhaps make it interesting. <
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