Furious fourth quarter pushes ECU to 37-20 bowl victory over Ohio

The Daily ReflectorDecember 23, 2013 

— East Carolina hit a grand slam at Tropicana Field.

The Pirates stormed Ohio for 20 unanswered points in the fourth quarter Monday, including a spectacular touchdown catch by quarterback Shane Carden on a trick play pass from wide receiver Cam Worthy, to win the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl.

East Carolina’s 37-20 victory inside the home of baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays not only ended the Pirates’ four-bowl losing streak but also clinched the second double-digit win season in school history.

“It was a great feeling, and the first thing I thought about was the kids,” coach Ruffin McNeill said of the Pirates, who finished 10-3. “All of us got together and decided on a vision and a goal right after the end of the (2012 season). We fought for it.”

Trailing 20-17 early in the fourth after Ohio kicker Josiah Yazdani’s second field goal of the game, East Carolina senior running back and bowl MVP Vintavious Cooper (game-high 198 rush yards, two touchdowns) broke loose for a 31-yard score. The run revived a team that appeared to be headed for a fifth straight bowl defeat.

Two minutes later, East Carolina brought the house down when Carden (273 pass yards, TD) tossed a short screen pass to one-time junior college QB Worthy, then sprinted down field.

Worthy lofted a perfect pass to the back right corner of the end zone, where Carden jumped above two defenders for his first-ever TD catch and a 31-20 edge with 7 minutes, 29 seconds left.

An interception by linebacker Brandon Williams set the stage for the final Pirates score, a 22-yard Cooper run.

East Carolina out-gained the Bobcats 568 to 435 in total yards.

“We just continued to work, continued to get better and better, and we had a few bumps here and there but we just kept fighting,” said Carden, who said the trick play was a product of trust among players and coaches.

“(Worthy) just keeps getting better. You’ve just got to throw it to Cam and he’s going to make a play, and sometimes Cam will throw to me and I’ll make a play for him.”

The defense kept the Pirates in the game for long stretches while the offense struggled to relocate the momentum it had in the first quarter.

The Bobcats (7-5) were limited to just Yadzani’s two field goals the second half.

“It’s just perseverance, and you just can’t ask for anything else,” said senior linebacker Kyle Tudor, who made five tackles in his career finale. “It’s been a tough season and we didn’t accomplish all the goals we wanted to, but this was a big part of that and I’m just happy we got that 10th win.”

Also for the East Carolina defense, senior safety Michael Dobson had a game-high 14 tackles and an interception, followed by linebacker Jeremy Grove’s seven tackles and six each from linebacker Zeek Bigger and cornerback Adonis Armstrong. Senior safety Damon Magazu snared his fifth interception of the season in his final game.

For Cooper, who charged for a bowl-record 104 yards in the first half, it was a memorable finish.

“We wanted to come out today and show exactly what type of team we’re capable of being,” said Cooper, who clinched consecutive 1,000-yard seasons in his MVP outing. “It feels amazing. Everybody wants to have a six-win season and become bowl eligible. We had higher goals than that, we held ourselves to a higher standard and it showed today.”

East Carolina’s Justin Hardy led all receivers with nine catches for 66 yards, followed by Isaiah Jones’ eight grabs for 48 yards. Worthy, meanwhile, caught one TD pass and threw the first one since he took snaps for Yuba Community College.

“The corner was trailing (Carden down the field), so the safety was rolling over and I felt like I could make that throw and I felt Shane could adjust to it,” Worthy said of the 14-yard trick play TD. “I’m not shocked at all that he made that play.”

The loss for Ohio erased a big game by receiver Donte Foster, who made six catches for 160 yards, including an 80-yard TD catch in the first half. Bobcats starting quarterback Tyler Tettleton managed 228 yards and a TD but was picked off three times.

“It taught us something, taught our young men something,” McNeill said of the Pirates’ ability to rise above a disappointing loss to Marshall that kept them out of the Conference USA championship game. “Having a great attitude and working as one, doing things with no ego involved, no entitlement and teamwork first.”

The Pirates blitzed the Bobcats for 14 points in the first quarter, but saw the game quickly deadlocked at 14-14 in the second. Warren Harvey’s 41-yard field goal nudged ECU back into the lead, 17-14, at the intermission.

A handful of records were set by the Pirates as they crafted their 14-0 lead.

Hardy broke Dwayne Harris’ school record for career receiving yards in the half, while Carden became the first Pirates quarterback to eclipse 4,000 passing yards in a single season.

That didn’t keep it from being a tight half.

Dobson’s interception gave the Pirates in good field position to start their second drive, and a 34-yard blast up the middle by Cooper set the stage for Carden’s 5-yard fade pass to Worthy to open the scoring. Later in the first, Breon Allen capped another Pirates scoring drive with a 2-yard TD to run the score to 14-0.

Ohio came to life in the second, however, as Tettleton zipped a swing pass to Daz’mund Patterson, who strolled 17 yards to the end zone to cut the lead to 14-7.

The Bobcats’ next drive lasted just one play. Reserve QB Derrius Vick threw to Foster on a post route, and the wide-open receiver reeled in the ball and dashed to the end zone for an 80-yard TD and a tie game, 14-14.

Contact Nathan Summers at nsummers@reflector.com or 252-329-9595.

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