ECU football: Beating Wolfpack was for 'Pirate Nation'

CorrespondentNovember 23, 2013 

— It was hard to tell just how historic a day it was for East Carolina football, because this time the Pirates acted like they had been there before.

But they had plenty of stars as they got past struggling N.C. State 42-28 on Saturday at Carter-Finley Stadium.

The win marked the first time the Pirates (9-2) have beaten the Wolfpack and UNC in the same season. The other win had been just as impressive, a 55-31 rout of the Tar Heels on Sept. 28 at Kenan Stadium.

“We’ve really had the confidence all season and believed in ourselves,” said ECU coach Ruffin McNeill, whose Pirates (6-1 in Conference USA) will visit Marshall on Friday in a game that will decide the C-USA East championship.

“We believe we can win every game and we believe in each other. We believe in hard work. We don’t believe in the easy way. We believe in the right way and that’s the way we’re going to do it. These guys love and trust one another.

“A rival game like this, this late, is tough. But we just want to get better. I know Pirate Nation – I call them ‘Pirate Family’ – appreciates this. Having grown up in the state I understand the significance (of beating UNC and State) both as a player and a coach. But it should always be given to the players. If the players do well, the university does well.”

Junior Shane Carden completed 23 of 30 passes for 255 yards and three touchdowns, also running for two scores himself.

“We’re a very confident team right now,” Carden said. “We have nine wins, and that was our goal this week. We know this is a big game. It’s a big win for us and an exciting win for us.

“It means a lot to Pirate Nation to have beaten (UNC and State), I know that. After this year’s over maybe we can think about it more. But right now we’ve got to move on.”

McNeill also had high praise for Carden.

“Last year he was vying to be the starting quarterback of our offense,” the coach said. “Now he’s earned the starting quarterback of our team. He’s self-motivated. He’s never satisfied. He’s a leader, vocally and by how he does. He’s one of our most passionate players and hardest workers.”

Justin Hardy, who now holds the ECU single-season receiving yardage record with 1,130, caught eight passes for 83 yards and a TD and completed that 20-yarder to Cooper.

“I just thank ECU for getting me here,” said Hardy, a junior from Vanceboro who was not recruited by the Tar Heels or Wolfpack. “I kind of have a chip on my shoulder sometimes. The in-state rivalries we have are all big for the program.

“I’ve just gone hard in practice all year long and let it carry over into the games. Coaches have told us not to listen to all the outside noise and take it one game at a time.”

ECU scored four straight touchdowns to build a 35-7 lead before the Wolfpack rallied late. At that point every scoring drive had gone at least 63 yards.

The Pirates did have a few spectacular plays on the day – including a one-handed Vintavious Cooper catch on a Hardy pass for a 20-yard gain to the State 43 and a 32-yard sideline connection from Carden to Reese Wiggins at the 3 on the drive that made it 35-7 – most of the offense was pretty methodical.

“It was kind of behind me and I actually got held a little bit,” Cooper said of the catch. “Being that I came out of the backfield and, I guess (the defender) thought I had it. Justin kind of put it behind me in hopes that I would get a pass interference call. I don’t know, man. Somehow I just caught it.”

The Pirates have now won 12 of the 28 meetings with the Wolfpack, including two straight and nine of the past 15.

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