Greenville — Lance Ray still is a step from going the distance, but he certainly is making the process of getting there exciting.
For the second time this season, the East Carolina senior receiver was on the brink of breaking free on a kick return Saturday at Middle Tennessee State before being forced out of bounds.
Like his 85-yard explosion that fell one tackle shy of the end zone against Florida Atlantic this season, however, Rays 51-yard sprint up the right sideline during the fourth quarter set up a score, and this time it was the one that won the game.
It was a pretty clutch time because they had just scored to tie it, and the kickoff team, we just zoned out on that play and I was one step away, said Ray, who is averaging 30.4 yards per kickoff return this season and has become a full partner in the pass game with 11 receptions for 133 yards and two touchdowns. I came into the year with no personal goals, just to contribute to the team, so I wont be disappointed if I dont return one (for a score), but at the same time it would be nice.
Ray, who took a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown in his Pirates debut last year against Appalachian State, said the experience from last weekends 24-17 win against Middle Tennessee State should keep paying dividends, beginning Saturday when East Carolina will be back on the road at Tulane.
Wins often can be tough for visitors to the Superdome because of the typically small crowds, and this week promises to be even tougher against a Green Wave team off to a 4-2 start.
Still, Ray said he expects East Carolina to be even better.
It was good for our team because we got a different look, the native of Quincy, Fla., said of Saturdays close finish. The (North) Carolina game, we got up early and stayed up, and to have to grind it out in the fourth quarter with a tie score like we did, that gave us a new look and gave us the opportunity to showcase what type of team we are in that type of situation.
Big easier? The Superdomes small crowd-big arena effect can squeeze the life out of teams that fail to create their own excitement.
Last season was indicative of that trend for the Pirates, who were blanked by the Green Wave before waking up with two second-quarter touchdowns on their way to a tense, 28-23 victory that ended on a failed onsides kick attempt by Tulane.
But this years Pirates have an increasingly uncanny string of opening-drive touchdowns. When East Carolina begins the final meeting between the teams under the dome (Tulane will unveil an on-campus stadium for 2014), the offense will be going for its sixth consecutive opening-drive touchdown.
I think we have to expect what we normally face and what we faced last year against Tulane, that kind of weird atmosphere of a big stadium and not many people, quarterback Shane Carden said of the Pirates. Weve faced that a few other times at (Alabama-Birmingham) and a little bit last week (at Middle Tennessee State). It doesnt matter whos watching, how many people, weve got to do our own thing.
Suspension aftermath: Coach Ruffin McNeill did not specify the length of the suspensions for receivers Danny Webster and Quataye Smyre.
Theyre on my time right now, McNeill said. Its non-negotiable.
McNeill said the same still was true for junior starting nose tackle Terry Williams, who the fourth-year coach suspended before the win against North Carolina.