NEW ORLEANS — The stat sheet looked great Saturday as East Carolina set three school records, but it was mistakes that decided its Conference USA contest against Tulane at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
When the three-overtime contest was over, the Pirates were on the wrong end of a 36-33 result as Tulane’s Cairo Santos, who made five field goals, nailed a 42-yarder to give Tulane the victory.
“It hurts,” said junior receiver Justin Hardy, who finished with 230 yards on 17 receptions, both school records.
“We could have done a lot of things better on the offensive side of the ball, and it would be a whole lot different. The slow start hurt a lot.”
Hardy had the bulk of the team’s first-half offense with 84 yards and eight receptions as the score was tied at 6 at halftime. The Pirates trailed 19-9 with nine minutes to play before rallying to force overtime.
The Pirates scored on a 26-yard Warren Harvey field goal and tied the score on Vintavious Cooper’s 2-yard run with 1:48 left. Cooper finished with 87 yards rushing and two touchdowns after a slow first half.
The Pirates got a defensive stop on the ensuing Tulane drive, and nearly won the game in regulation, but Harvey’s 42-yard attempt sailed wide left at the horn.
The team’s traded touchdowns during the first two overtimes, but in the third extra period, Harvey recorded his third missed field goal, and Santos ended the game on the next play.
Pirates quarterback Shane Carden set a school record with 480 yards and a touchdown on 41-of-55 passing, but he also threw an interception that was returned 99 yards for a Tulane score.
Carden said despite Warren’s misses, it was a myriad of ECU mistakes that led to the loss.
“It’s just absolutely not (Harvey’s) fault that we lost the game,” he said. “I had a terrible read that cost us a 14-point swing. It’s never one man. We had opportunities to win, and we didn’t capitalize. We’re down right now, but we’ll learn from this game and be ready for Southern Miss.”
For Tulane (5-2, 3-0), quarterback Devin Powell started in place of injured Nick Montana. Powell finished with 224 yards, two touchdowns and one interception on 23-of-39 passing.
Tulane’s defense forced two turnovers, which turned into 10 Green Wave points. The defense also pressured Hardy most of the night and forced four straight 3-and-outs in the first half.
“We were just worried too much about what they were showing and not worried about lining up and playing football,” Hardy said. “We weren’t playing at a fast pace like we normally do. Later in the game, we just started to trust it and play with a clear mind.”
The loss was the Pirate’s first conference defeat of the season, but ECU still controls its destiny in the East Division. McNeill said Tulane’s defense was the difference on Saturday.
“I said coming into the game, that C.J. (Johnson) had an experienced defense coming back, and they played that way,” he said. “They have experience on the back end so they blended coverages and blitzes as well. It was a tough loss, but we’ll keep fighting because the season is not over.”