GREENVILLE — East Carolina head coach Ruffin McNeill said he did not want to see first-year starting quarterback Shane Carden play with hesitation.
The sophomore granted his wish as he completed 23 of 40 passes for 258 yards and three touchdowns — one passing and two running — in a 28-18 win over Texas-El Paso on a rain-soaked Saturday night. Carden also threw three interceptions.
Carden was backed by a resurgent Pirates rushing attack led by junior transfer Vintavious Cooper, who rushed for 151 yards and a TD and caught four passes for 52 yards.
Cooper scored late in the fourth quarter to put ECU up 28-10, but the Miners retaliated with a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Autrey Golden and then recovered the ensuing onside kick.
However, the East Carolina defense picked off quarterback Nick Lamaison a third time to wash out UTEP’s hopes of a comeback.
Running back Nathan Jeffrey spearheaded the UTEP attack as he ran for 133 yards on 23 attempts.
East Carolina (3-2, 2-0 C-USA) fell behind early as the Miners (1-4, 0-1 C-USA) scored on their second possession of the game. Lamaison (9-of-26 for 144 yards) directed UTEP on a 12-play, 98-yard drive that chewed 5:37 off the clock and ended with wide receiver Jordan Leslie beating corner Leonard Paulk on two-yard fade route on the right side of the end zone.
The Pirates responded on their next possession with a fast-paced six-play scoring drive to tie the game at 7.
A 39-yard run by Cooper in which he broke free from a pileup to gain extra yardage put the Pirates at the UTEP 1-yard line. After a false start penalty pushed ECU back to the six, Carden scrambled through the Miners’ defense on a designed run to even the score at the 2:44 mark.
The touchdown marked the first time the Pirates reached the end zone in the first quarter all year.
UTEP took a 10-7 lead midway through the second quarter.
The Pirates appeared poised to tack on another touchdown as Carden and Co. marched down field thanks to a 40-yard completion to freshman wide receiver Jabril Solomon that put ECU at the Miners 9-yard line.
ECU moved up to the 6 after a Carden run when the action stopped due to a lightning delay that lasted an hour and 20 minutes.
Heavy rain soaked the field, and the pause in play sapped the Pirates’ momentum. When the game resumed, Carden threw his first pick of the game on a play-action pass that was intercepted by Shane Hughn.
The Pirates’ defense forced a three-and-out on the ensuing possession. The home team later took a 14-10 lead and did not trail again the rest of the game.