"I think the high temperatures had something to do with some of the fans staying away from the game," said WVU Athletic Director Ed Pastilong of the 94 degree heat, "but the fans that did come certainly enjoyed themselves."
West Virginia rolled up 564 yards of total offense to the Pirates' 239 yards. Rasheed Marshall connected with standout wide receiver Chris Henry for 9 completions and 142 yards, including a touchdown, and overall completed 16 of 26 attempts for 219 yards while suffering an interception. Kay Jay Harris added 134 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries and Jason Colson added 39 yards on 8 carries and a touchdown. WVU's quarterbacks - Marshall, Charles Hales and Adam Bednarik - were 26 of 44 for 351 yards as a group. The Mountaineer defense demonstrated the much improved pass rush that many WVU fans had hoped for with 4 sacks of Pirates quarterback Desmond Robinson while also forcing the senior signal caller into three interceptions, two by Adam "Pac Man" Jones, one of which Jones returned for a touchdown.
"Overall, it was an good start," said Mountaineer head coach Rich Rodriguez. "We did some things good and some things not so good. There's a lot of things we have to correct and we'll have to look at the tape to see what we need to work on, although I don't need the tape to know a bunch of them already. But, we got the win and that's the most important thing."
The Mountaineers wasted little time in striking paydirt, having been put into excellent field position by Jones' 59-yard return of the opening kick-off, setting up the Mountaineers' first offensive possession of 2004 at the Pirates 29-yard line. Pirates kicker Cameron Broadwell momentarily saved the touchdown with a shoestring tackle of Jones along the Pirates' sideline, but the WVU offense cashed in quickly. On the first play from scrimmage, Marshall found Henry for 14 yards, followed by a Harris run to the 5-yard line. With first and goal to go, Harris took a pitchout from Marshall and, following a crushing block by WVU tight end Josh Bailey on Pirate linebacker Dashaun Stephens, raced around the right corner into the end zone untouched for the game's and the season's first touchdown with only 1:34 gone.
Brad Cooper added the extra point to make the score 7-0, but Cooper was hit after the kick and injured his right leg, not returning to the game. "We'll have to see what the trainers say. Hopefully, he's just a little nicked up," said Rodriguez about Cooper's injury. "It didn't look too bad, but you never know and we didn't want to take any chances."
After the Pirates gained just 7 yards on their first offensive possession, WVU got the ball back at its own 36-yard line and went right to work. Marshall scrambled for a 12-yard gain on second down, Harris rambled ahead for 8 yards, followed by another Marshall-to-Henry connection covering 17 yards and WVU found itself at the Pirates 23-yard line. On second down, Mountaineer senior wideout John Pennington broke for the left corner of the end zone and made an acrobatic catch, reminiscent of his dramatic reception in last season's Pittsburgh game, for WVU's second touchdown. The ensuing extra point gave WVU a 14-point lead with a little over 8 minutes remaining in the first quarter.
West Virginia's defense then got into the scoring act. After yielding two first downs to the Pirates, Pac Man Jones stepped in front of a Robinson pass intended for Pirate wideout Brian Howard and intercepted the ball. With fellow Mountaineer Scott Gyorko providing a key block, Jones raced down the WVU sideline and into the end zone, electrifying the WVU home crowd. Andy Good's extra point gave WVU a commanding 21-0 lead and the rout was on.
The Pirates then made some special teams noise of their own, with a long kickoff return to the WVU 27-yard line by Damarcus Fox, who broke several tackles while weaving through the Mountaineers' kickoff coverage unit. "We'll look hard at that play and work on not letting that happen again," said WVU special teams coordinator Bill Stewart. However, the Mountaineer defense held the Pirates to a field goal by Broadwell, making the score 21-3 with 11:43 remaining before halftime. After the ensuing kick-off, WVU moved the ball from its own 29 to the Pirates 42 before the drive stalled and the Mountaineers were forced to punt.
On the punt return, ECU's Marvin Townes took a hit from WVU's Mike Henshaw and the ball popped loose. The Mountaineers' Aaron Meckstroth pounced on the ball at the ECU 18-yard line and WVU's offense was again in prime position. Four straight carries by Harris put the ball at the 3-yard line. Marshall then scooted around the left side and dove across the goal line to give WVU its final score of the first half with 5:08 remaining before halftime.
The Pirates then mounted an offensive charge of their own, taking the ensuing kickoff from their own 27 and marching to the WVU 11-yard line. With just 0:43 left in the half, Robinson found tight end Josh Coffman across the middle of the end zone for the Pirates' first touchdown and the score became 28-10 as the teams went to the locker room.
"I was real disappointed we gave up that touchdown before halftime," lamented Rodriguez. "Our guys have to learn that when you've got a team down you have to keep them down. That could have been a real confidence builder for them."
For the half, Marshall was 11 of 20 for 162 yards. Harris had 77 yards on the ground at the half and Henry had 5 receptions for 71 yards going into the locker room.
ECU received the second half kickoff and immediately got a taste of an inspired WVU defense, as Jason Hardee bowled through the Pirates line and sacked Robinson on second down. On third down, it was Pac Man time again, as the Mountaineers' standout defensive back went up with ECU's Kevin Roach and simply took the ball way from the 6-4 Pirate wide receiver.
Marshall then directed the fourth WVU scoring drive, connecting with Eddie Jackson, Miquelle Henderson and Henry on consecutive plays covering 13, 9 and 19 yards, respectively. From the 2, Jason Colson garnered his first touchdown of 2004 and WVU went on top 35-10.
The teams then traded punts before Chris Henry provided the second half fireworks. With 6:28 left in the third quarter, Henry streaked down the ECU sideline and hauled in a long, perfectly placed pass from Marshall and ran away from Pirates defender Donald Whitehead to the end zone. The play covered 63 yards and made the score 42-10 WVU with the ensuing extra point.
Another exchange of punts took place, then with Charles Hales having replaced Marshall, the WVU offense moved 58 yards in 9 plays before the drive stalled and Andy Good came on to boot a 34-yard field goal to make the score 45-10 in West Virginia's favor.
ECU earned its final score of the day with an impressive 12-play, 74-yard drive, capped by a 4-yard Art Brown run, making the score 45-17.
The final WVU score came with 4:19 left in the game, as redshirt freshman Adam Bednarik led the Mountaineer reserves on a 10-play, 71 yard march, capped by Bednarik's 11-yard pass to Jarod Douglas, providing the final margin of 52-17.
West Virginia got 64 players into the action, substituting liberally in the second half in part due to the hot temperatures that were well over 100 degrees on the field.
"Clearly WVU is one of the top teams in the east, if not the entire country," said Pirates head coach John Thompson. "We knew we'd have to play a near perfect game to have a chance to beat them and we simply made too many mistakes and made them at the wrong times. But, our kids never quit and, hopefully, we'll learn from this and get better." Rodriguez agreed with Thompson. "Their kids never gave up, even when the score got a little out of hand," said Rodriguez. "They'll beat a few teams this year."
Mountaineer defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel was pleased with his defense's effort. "We got a lot of pressure on the quarteback, which is something we knew we'd have to do better this year [than last season]. Jason Hardee was particularly effective, Craig [Wilson] played well and Ben Lynch was outstanding. Ernest Hunter was in their backfield a lot and that's what we expect from him. We covered well and strung out lots of their plays. We made our share of mistakes, but overall it's a good way to start of the season."
Rodriguez tried to put the game in perspective.
"This is a game we probably should have won, and we did that. But, we can't sit on our laurels, because we have to go down to Florida, in the heat and humidity, and face a hungry Central Florida team that is looking for some payback from last year. We'd better be ready or we'll not like what could happen."
The Central Florida game will not be televised. Kick-off is set for 12:10 PM EST in Orlando.
Attendance - 59,245
First Downs - WVU 27 ECU 13
Rushes-Yards - WVU 37-213 ECU 28-91
Passing - Comp-Att-Yds-TD-Int
Punts-Avg. - WVU - 4-40.3 ECU 9-39.1
Fumbles-Lost - WVU 1-1 ECU 2-1
Penalties-Yards - WVU 8-81 ECU 7-58
Time of Possession - WVU 25:08 ECU 34:52
RUSHING - Att-Yds-TD - WVU Harris 15-134-1, Colson 8-39-1 Little 5-16 Marshall 5-19-1 Hales 2-5 Bednarik 2-0 ECU Townes 8-51 Brown 9-37-1 Veal 4-13 Harris 1-14 Robinson 6 (minus 24)
PASSING - WVU - Marshall 16-26-219-1-1 Hales 5-9-88-0-0 Bednarik 5-9-44-1-0 ECU Robinson 15-34-148-1-3
RECEIVING - WVU - Henry 9-142-1 Pennington 3-39-1 Jackson 4-31 Henderson 3-41 Austin 2-24, Douglas 1-11-1 Bolden 1-17 Alston 1-16 Myles 1-18 Harris 1-12 ECU Coffman 3-29-1 Harris 4-40 Roach 5-37 Good 2-34 Howard 1-8
DISCLAIMER: The contents of this article are intended for entertainment purposes only. The author has created detailed statistics including each drive's time of possession, yardage, key plays, etc. for each game in order to make this fantasy series of WVU game outcomes as realistic as possible. The author assumes no responsibility for any errors or inconsistencies and has produced the series strictly for the enjoyment of Mountaineer football fans during the agonizing summer months without WVU football.