Don’t look for microwave ovens at East Carolina; coach Ruffin McNeill says he wanted bricklayers. Those bricks built the structure that allowed the Pirates to shock No. 17 Virginia Tech 28-21 at in Lane Stadium.
McNeill, in his fifth season as coach of his alma mater, explained his mixed metaphor by saying he didn’t want to chase a quick fix for the Pirates’ problems when he came on board, instead he wanted to build a strong program of sustained success.
“We don’t want to microwave things; we want to build, brick by brick,” McNeill said.
Microwaves or none, the Pirates’ offense got hot quickly when it was needed it most to secure their first win against a ranked opponent in their past six tries. It was also ECU’s first win against a ranked opponent on the road since 1996 and first at Virginia Tech since 1991.
The Pirates (2-1) hadn’t scored since the first quarter, but when the Hokies tied the game at 21with 1 minute, 20 seconds remaining in the game, Shane Carden needed only three plays to span 65 yards and win the game with 16 seconds to spare.
Carden’s first pass of the drive was a perfectly placed ball to Cam Worthy for 31 yards to the Virginia Tech 34. Worthy made another catch the next play and broke three tackles, dragging a pile of defenders to the 1-yard line.
Carden then rushed for the game-winner himself, sneaking around the left end of the line as the Hokies packed the middle. The senior quarterback rang up 427 yards through the air with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Worthy’s two catches for 62 yards on the final drive were part of a career-high 224 yards. The Pirates torched the Hokies’ defense for 12 plays longer than 20 yards, including six that exceeded 30 yards.
Carden and the offense opened the game with a seven-play touchdown drive that went 75 yards in 2:43. The biggest play was a third down conversion in which Carden’s pass was batted in the backfield but caught by tight end Bryce Williams, who was blocking in protection. Williams raced 22 yards to the Hokies five yard line. Two plays later, Carden hit Williams over the middle and the scoring flurry was under way.
ECU scored on two of its next three drives to go up 21-0 with 2:44 remaining in the first quarter.
“It’s important every game for us to start fast and sustain it. It was important to get into the end zone early,” McNeill said.
Meanwhile, the defense had held Virginia Tech (2-1) without a first down during that stretch.
The Pirates had opportunities to add to their lead in the second quarter, but came up with empty when a failed fourth-down conversion, a fumble and a missed field goal scuttled three consectutive drives deep in Virginia Tech territory.
The Hokies scored late in the second quarter on a 21-yard pass from Michael Brewer to Isaiah Ford to cut the Pirates’ lead to 21-7.
After both defenses dominated the third quarter and most of the fourth, Virginia Tech scored twice in the last seven minutes to tie the game.
Holding the Hokies to 21 points a week after they earned national attention for hanging 35 on Ohio State in Columbus was a point of pride for McNeill.
“Our defense played outstanding. Not just good – a great game,” McNeill said.
The Pirates (2-1) now have a signature win to point to. Will it matter?
“I felt like we were underrated, but we’ll still be underrated,” said defensive back Josh Hawkins, who had two interceptions.
Defensive tackle Terry Williams played his first game this season following a leg injury, dominating the middle to help hold the Hokies to just 91 rushing yards.
The Pirates, winners of their past three against ACC teams, will face another next week when North Carolina comes to Dowdy-Ficklin Stadium. ECU beat the Tar Heels 55-31 last season in Chapel Hill.