Crystal Ball 2005 - East Carolina

MORGANTOWN, W. VA. – West Virginia University evened its record at 2-2 on Saturday before 54,292 fans at Milan Puskar Stadium by defeating East Carolina in convincing fashion, 37-10. The win may have proven costly, however, as the Mountaineers' talented true freshman tailback Jason Gwaltney left the game near the end of the first half with an ankle injury and did not return.

Before he left, Gwaltney had racked up his third consecutive 100-yard rushing performance with 113 yards on just 12 carries, one a 58-yard touchdown jaunt. A quartet of WVU running backs – Jason Colson, Eric Schmitt, Pernell Williams and Erick Phillips – combined to gain 309 yards between them which, added to Gwaltney's yardage, pushed WVU over the 400-yard mark for rushing yardage on a day where the WVU aerial attack was not really needed. Colson went over the century mark with 113 yards and Williams was only a yard away with 99. Phillips added 79 yards to round out the balanced and dominating Mountaineer ground game.

The WVU defense limited struggling ECU to just 190 yards of total offense to West Virginia's 537 total yards. The Mountaineers tallied 32 first downs on the day to ECU's 13 and controlled the clock by almost a 2:1 margin, 39:16 to 20:44.

The Mountaineers won the toss and elected to give ECU the ball first. Disaster struck soon thereafter for the visiting Pirates. On the third play from scrimmage, Pirate running back Jermarcus Veal was hit hard by blitzing linebacker Jeff Noechel and fumbled. Mountaineer defensive lineman Ernest Hunter fell on the ball at the ECU 27-yard line and the West Virginia offense wasted little time posting the game's first score. Two runs by Gwaltney moved the ball to the 15-yard line, and then Mountaineer quarterback Adam Bednarik spotted Rayshawn Bolden heading toward the right corner of the end zone. The junior wide receiver caught Bednarik's pass over his right shoulder while getting a foot in bounds for the game's first touchdown and a 7-0 WVU lead at the 12:02 mark of the opening quarter.

The teams traded possessions before WVU's offense struck paydirt again. Starting at their own 28, the Mountaineers embarked on a nine-play, 72-yard march that consisted entirely of running plays. Colson did most of the damage for the Mountaineers on the drive, picking up gains of eight, 13, nine and 15 yards while Schmitt blasted through a big hole in the middle of the line for a gain of 15. Bednarik scrambled for 10 more to put WVU in scoring range at the 11, and just two plays later Colson went over from the five-yard line for the second touchdown of the day.

ECU finally gained their initial first down on the ensuing drive, but the WVU defense again made life miserable for the visitors as Dee McCann picked off a long pass by Pirate quarterback Kort Shankweiler. The errant aerial, which was intended for wideout Aundrae Allison was snared by McCann and returned to the ECU 45. The Mountaineer offense moved to the Pirates' 28-yard line, and from there, Pat McAfee came on to attempt a 45-yard field goal. McAfee, whose long game-tying field goal attempt against Maryland the week before had hit the left upright and bounced away, put the kick through the uprights to stretch WVU's lead to 17-0 at the 1:01 mark of the first quarter.

Faced with a blowout, the Pirates then mounted their first scoring strike of the day to get back into the game. Shankweiler led the Pirates on an eight play, 63-yard drive to the WVU 14. The Mountaineer defense then stiffened and forced Nate Steinbacher to boot a 33-yard field goal, making the score 17-3 in favor of West Virginia.

WVU responded back in quick fashion. After a 39-yard kick-off return by Antonio Lewis to the Mountaineer 44 had given WVU good field position, Schmitt lost two yards on a fumble recovery resulting from a bad exchange from Bednarik. On third down, after Bednarik overthrew an open Vaughn Rivers, Gwaltney took a handoff from Bednarik and burst through the right side of the line, then outside and down the East Carolina sideline on a scintillating 58-yard touchdown scamper. The quick burst swelled WVU's lead to 24-3 with 9:10 left in the half.

After another lackluster ECU possession, West Virginia took over again on offense, but this time the bad luck bug was on the side of the Gold and Blue. On the second play of the series, Gwaltney picked up four yards but came up limping badly and had to be helped off of the field as Mountaineer Field grew eerily silent. Gwaltney did not return after the injury and was on crutches on the WVU sideline after halftime.

Colson replaced Gwaltney and picked right up where the freshman left off. WVU moved to the ECU 22 before the drive stalled and McAfee attempted a 39-yard field goal. The try was doomed from the start as the result of a bad snap that couldn't be cleanly handled by holder George Shehl. ECU took over but time ran out in the first half with West Virginia holding a commanding 24-3 lead.

After a halftime performance that featured recognition of former WVU football head coach Don Nehlen, who was recently inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, West Virginia gave ECU a golden opportunity to whittle away at the Mountaineer lead on their first second half possession. Williams fumbled at the Mountaineer 31 when East Carolina linebacker Richard Koonce stripped the ball out of his arms. However, the Mountaineer defense sacked Shankweiler on first down for a loss of nine yards and two incomplete passes later ECU was forced to punt.

The Mountaineer offense took over at the three-yard line and relied on its potent running game to march down the field. Williams carried six times for 43 yards and Bednarik completed passes to Darius Reynaud and Joe Hunter for 12 and 14 yards, respectively. From the 28, Colson took a pitchout from Bednarik and followed excellent blocks by Bolden and fellow wideout Dwayne Thompson to scamper untouched into the end zone for a 31-3 WVU lead with 7:21 left in the third quarter.

Beginning at its own 32 after the kick-off, ECU mounted its only sustained drive of the day. Shankweiler completed passes to Allison, wide-outs Bryson Bolling and Kevin Roach, then ECU back Jason Pender put the Pirates in scoring position when he broke free for a 24-yard run down the ECU sideline to the WVU 25. A questionable roughing call on Shankweiler moved the ball closer to paydirt, and on third and goal, Shankwelier hit tight end Sean Harmon with a six-yard pass for East Carolina's only touchdown of the day. The score still left WVU with a three-touchdown advantage at 31-10 at the 3:07 mark of the third stanza.

On the following possession it was Williams' turn to atone for his earlier fumble. The sophomore racked up 56 yards on seven carries, including a 14-yard run where the sophomore hurdled over would-be tackler Jarrett Wiggins. A Bednarik completion to tight end Josh Bailey added 12 more yards to the drive, but the Mountaineer offense again came to a halt short of the goal line, this time at the ECU 24-yard line. McAfee added his second field goal of the day from 41 yards out to increase the WVU lead to 34-10 with 12:12 remaining in the contest.

After a Marc Magro sack of Shankweiler, ECU again attempted to go deep. The Mountaineer secondary responded by tallying its second interception of the day as Anthony Mims was credited with the pick-off. WVU took over on offense and stayed on the ground to take time off the clock. Erick Phillips was the dominant ball carrier on the march with seven carries for 39 yards. Bednarik scrambled for a pick-up of eight yards, and a pass to Colson in the slot for 14 more yards moved WVU to the ECU 13. ECU's defense prevented another touchdown when Pirates safety Jamar Flourney tipped away Bednarik's pass intended for Brandon Tate along the back of the end zone. WVU settled for McAfee's third field goal of the day from 30 yards out for the final score of the day with 4:51 left in the game.

ECU managed to get to the WVU 34 with 2:03 remaining but turned the ball over on downs and the Mountaineers ran out the clock to preserve the 37-10 triumph.

"I thought our offensive line played great today. They gave our backs a lot of room to run and we were able to spread it around a little bit," said Mountaineer head coach Rich Rodriguez after the game. "We have the luxury of having depth at that position and we were able to get a lot of guys some carries today." When asked about Gwaltney's injury Rodriguez said, "I don't have any idea about the extent of it. We'll just have to see if it's serious and if it isn't it will depend on how well he responds to treatment [this week]. That's all I can really say," said Rodriguez, when asked if Gwaltney would be ready for next week's showdown with seventh- ranked Virginia Tech in Morgantown.

"Our defense played great today, too. We really covered them well and took away some of their options," said Rodriguez. "We really got after them down low and put a lot of pressure on their quarterback. Mike [Lorello] and Dee [McCann] gave us great leadership and focus and that's what we need our upperclassmen to do."

First year Pirates head coach Skip Holtz had plenty of praise for the Mountaineers in the ECU locker room. "West Virginia showed how good they are today, no question about it. Their running game is as good as we'll see this year and we just didn't have any answers for it." "We want our program to be like West Virginia's – a consistent winner – a team that just wears you down and sends wave after wave at you," said Holtz.

"We know we'll have to play our best game yet to have a chance next weekend, "said Rodriguez of the Mountaineers' pending encounter with the Hokies. "Frank (Beamer) will be bringing another great Virginia Tech team in here and we'll need our fans to be really juiced for this one." Rodriguez continued, "We have a ton of respect for them and they're obviously one of the best teams in the country. But, we'll strap ‘em up and give ‘em all we've got – that's the only promise I'll make."

The WVU-Virginia Tech match-up has been moved from its scheduled noon start to a 7:30 pm kick-off to accommodate national television coverage. The game is the last scheduled contest between the long-time rivals as the Hokies have since moved to the Atlantic Coast Conference. Talks between the two schools to resume the long-standing series have not resumed, in large part due to the recently scheduled Marshall series, which leaves West Virginia little wiggle room for future home and home series or neutral site clashes.

PASSING – WVA – Bednarik 12-19-109-1-0 ECU – Shankweiler 11-24-103-1-1

RUSHING – WVA – Gwaltney 12-113-1 Colson 16-113-2 Williams 16-99 Phillips 11-79 Schmitt 4-18 Bednarik 3-6 62-428-3 ECU – Veal 14-61 Pender 4-34 Shankweiler 3-(-13) 21-82-0

RECEIVING – WVA – Bolden 3-29-1 Myles 1-6 Rivers 2-15 Hunter 1-14 Reynaud 3-19 Colson 1-14 Bailey 1-12 ECU – Allison 3-38 Bolling 2-27 Roach 2-17 Harmon 2-10-1 Veal 1-7 Pender 1-4

DISCLAIMER: The contents of this article are intended for entertainment purposes only. No criticism, direct or implied, is intended. 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.

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