GREENVILLE — Playing in what could be their final game of the year at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, the Pirates made sure their 20 seniors walked away with fond memoirs, as East Carolina clubbed Alabama-Birmingham 63-14 on Saturday to win its fourth straight game.
It was a great day, East Carolina head coach Ruffin McNeill said. The senior representatives had a great game. I was proud of our guys and proud of the team.
With the win, East Carolina (8-2, 6-1) maintained its Conference USA East Division lead, and if it can hold on to it then there is a good chance the Pirates could be back at Dowdy-Ficklen for the C-USA title game.
For now, quarterback Shane Carden and Co. were happy to match their win total from last year.
I thought it was a great team win and were looking to keep getting wins and beat our total from last year, Carden said.
Senior wide receiver Reese Wiggins bid goodbye to the hometown fans with the best performance of his career, catching five passes for 142 yards and three scores in the senior night romp.
Im just very blessed, Wiggins said. I thank God every day for giving me the opportunity to live out the college dream.
The Pirates burned the Blazers (2-8, 1-5 C-USA) on the ground and through the air, rushing for a season-high 278 yards, while Carden completed 21 of his 31 pass attempts for 347 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions.
Senior Vintavious Cooper galloped for a game-high 126 yards and three touchdowns, while junior Breon Allen rushed for 95 yards on 13 attempts.
It was originally thought that Allen gained 126 yards, which would have marked the first time ECU had a pair of 100-yard rushers since 2003 and its first 300-yard rushing effort since 2007.
However, a 51-yard jet sweep by Allen in the first quarter was deemed a pass because Carden dropped the ball into Allens hands as he went in motion instead of handing it off.
The change in stats didnt change the effectiveness of the Pirates running backs.
We just wanted to impose our will, Allen said. (Offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley) says that just because were an air raid team, we dont want people to think that were not physical. Today we wanted to show people that we are physical.
For only the second time all season the Pirates failed to get points on their first drive, but they were able to find the end zone by their third possession to start a streak of three straight scoring drives that spanned two quarters and quickly put UAB behind the eight ball.
Allens 51-yard dash highlighted a five-play, 66-yard scoring march that ended with Carden rifling a 5-yard slant to Wiggins for his first touchdown of the game.
Wiggins was at it again on ECUs next possession, but received an assist from the UAB defense. Standing on the Pirates 45-yard line, Wiggins lined up wide to the left side of the field completely uncovered, waving to Carden.
By the time the Blazers had recognized the situation, Carden snapped the ball and fired a screen pass to Wiggins, who streaked past the oncoming defenders for a 55-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
I was really just trying to get Shanes attention to let him know what I saw, Wiggins said. Then he looked over and checked into a screen and it worked out pretty well.
The Blazers responded with their first scoring drive of the game, a 65-yarder that took only 1:47 off the clock, thanks to a 45-yard reception by Jamari Staples that led to Darrin Reaves 5-yard touchdown with 14:13 remaining in the second quarter.
The Blazers would not score again until a 3-yard run by quarterback Jonathan Perry made the score 56-14 with 9:30 left in the fourth.
East Carolina answered Reaves touchdown with a string of 42 unanswered points, which started on the ensuing drive when Cooper darted through the Blazers defense for a 26-yard score.
Coopers second touchdown came in dramatic fashion as the senior took a Carden pitch on the 1-yard line and stretched the ball across the goal line while keeping his knee up to complete an 80-yard drive.
The Pirates would add one more score before halftime as Justin Hardy fended off Blazers corner Lamarcus Farmer on a fade route to pull in an 11-yard pass from Carden.
The Pirates scored four more touchdowns in the second half, with one coming on the defensive side of the ball. Senior inside linebacker Kyle Tudor snared a Perry pass for his first career interception and returned it 50 yards for his first-ever touchdown.