Every loss comes with a lesson, and East Carolina learned two during Saturday’s 33-23 loss at then-No. 21 South Carolina.
Playing on the road for the first time this season, the Pirates (1-1) looked unfazed by the near 90,000 rabid South Carolina fans as they turned back the Gamecocks’ offense on their first two possessions and countered with two scoring drives to temporarily quiet the crowd.
The only problem was ECU’s first two punches were glancing blows, not knee-buckling jabs.
The Pirates moved the ball well during its first two drives, getting to the South Carolina 8 and 18, respectively, but they settled for two Warren Harvey field goals.
“We had really good drives early,” East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill said. “We moved the ball well the majority of the night. I wish we had gotten sevens (touchdowns) in there early (on) those first two (drives).”
The opportunities were not lost on the players.
“We have to score in the red zone, that’s where we make our money,” said wide receiver Justin Hardy, who recorded 11 receptions for 133 yards.
The good news is that if Saturday’s battle with the Gamecocks served as a measuring stick, the Pirates learned they can be competitive with the upper echelon of college football.
East Carolina held leads of 6-0 and 13-7 during the first half and put together a five-play, 53-yard drive that was aided by a roughing-the-passer penalty to tack on three points with four seconds left in the first half, cutting the Gamecocks’ lead to 20-16.
Even after a disastrous third quarter in which Shane Carden (32-46-2, 321, touchdown) threw two picks that led to 10 South Carolina points, the Pirates never hung their heads.
East Carolina got up off the canvas early in the fourth quarter, as Carden led his unit on an 11-play, 75-yard drive that end with a 17-yard scoring pass to Cam Worthy to cut the deficit to 30-23 with 12 minutes, 3 seconds left.
The Pirates held an advantage in total offense (453-441) despite running nine fewer plays and gained 27 first downs to South Carolina’s 26.
The spirited effort should serve as somewhat of a confidence booster when ECU hits the road Saturday to take on Virginia Tech.
“We’re still confident,” running back Breon Allen said. “We’re in this together. We all took the loss, but we know we can’t stress this. We love each other and we have each other’s backs and we’ll get ready for the next game.”