Led by a record-setting performance by senior wide receiver Justin Hardy, East Carolina picked up its first win as members of the American Athletic Conference by batting down N.C. Central 52-7 on Saturday in both team’s season opener.
Hardy, already the Pirates’ all-time leader in receiving yards and touchdown receptions, pulled off the career triple crown Saturday night when his third grab of the game gave him a grand total of 269 receptions, breaking the career mark of 268 set by current Dallas Cowboy Dwayne Harris.
Hardy would go on to pull down eight passes for 87 yards and two scores in limited action and tossed a pivotal touchdown pass in the first quarter to give East Carolina (1-0) its first lead of the game.
The underdog FCS Eagles (0-1) did not look intimidated in their first trip to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium as they jumped out to a 7-0 lead early in the first.
N.C. Central scored when defensive end Felix Small stripped running back Breon Allen on the Pirates first running play of the game. The ball was recovered by safety C.J. Moore, who returned it 31 yards for a touchdown.
The score seemed to only inspire the Pirates, who retaliated with 52 straight points to take control of the contest. ECU would end the game holding a decisive edge in total yards (582-174) and first downs (32-10).
The key play for the Pirates was turned in by Hardy, who threw a 41-yard touchdown pass to Isaiah Jones to put ECU ahead 10-7 with 3:27 left in the first quarter.
The play began with quarterback Shane Carden handing off to Allen, who ran to his left and pitched the ball to Hardy, who found a wide open Jones down the right sideline for the score.
The touchdown pass was just one of several highlight plays for Jones, who caught 10 passes for 150 yards and a score.
Carden would finish the contest completing 26 of his 37 passes for 283 yards and three touchdowns in three quarters of work.
Carden’s counterpart, former Ravenscroft standout Quinn Billerman, struggled against an aggressive Pirates defense that racked up three sacks and seven tackles for a loss to shutout N.C. Central’s offense.
Linebacker Zeek Bigger led ECU in tackles with 11.
Billerman would end the night going 12-for-18 for 101 yards.
The Pirates entered the second quarter up 10-7, but exploded for 21 unanswered points in the second to take a commanding 31-7 lead at the break.
After halftime, freshman Travon Brown would catch a 17-yard TD pass from Carden in the third to extend the lead to 38-7.
In the fourth, freshman RB Anthony Scott ripped off a 38-yard TD before redshirt freshman Kurt Benkert reached the end zone on a nine-yard run to go up 52-7 with 1:22 left in the game.