Leading most of the game, ECU didn’t steal a 28-21 victory from No. 17 Virginia Tech on Saturday, but when the opportunity arose, they stole the moment.
The Hokies wiped out a 14-point, fourth-quarter deficit with a little over a minute left when East Carolina responded to capture its first win in Blacksburg Va., since 1991.
“We talked to them about having to take it, especially on the road,” East Carolina fifth-year coach Ruffin McNeill said. “We had to take it, and we did that. We had to make plays, and we had to actually take it.”
That they did, as the Pirates spanned 65-yards in three plays to reach the end zone with 16 seconds to spare to lock up their first road victory over a ranked opponent since they beat Miami in 1996.
There’s no doubt the victory will serve as a self-esteem booster for the Pirates (2-1, 0-0 AAC) as they head into their matchup with North Carolina (2-0, 0-0 ACC) this Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. However, they will not be overconfident.
As is the case with every game, the Pirates evoked the 24-hour rule, which basically means McNeill used the flash device from the Men in Black movies to erase any lasting memory of the Virginia Tech game to ensure his players stay focused on the Tar Heels.
“If we had begun talking this message this week or last week or even last year I would worry about (overconfidence),” McNeill said. “… We don’t have any time to be swell-headed or big-headed. We’re not built like that. We have to focus even harder on our method because that’s a part of our plan: This week we have to get better. When we say 24-hour rule, it happens.”
While the Pirates may put the past behind them, there’s little chance North Carolina, who is coming off a bye week, forgot about its 55-31 loss to ECU last season and will likely have revenge in mind come Saturday.
• A real ball Hawk: ECU junior cornerback Josh Hawkins was named the American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Week after his two-interception performance against Virginia Tech.
“Josh has a great knack for getting his hands on the football,” McNeill said.
Hawkins finished with eight tackles and one tackle for a loss. His outing highlighted a stellar afternoon by an ECU defense that tallied three sacks, six tackles for a loss and held VT to under 100 rushing yards.
“I was very pleased with our defense,” McNeill said. “They played 11-man football. They played very fast and aggressive. I thought we had times where we made plays. … Our kids did a great job executing.”
Also receiving honors from this weekend were quarterback Shane Carden and wide receiver Cam Worthy.
Carden, a senior, received an ESPN Helmet Sticker after completing 23 of his 47 passes for 427 yards and three touchdowns. Carden also scored the game-winning touchdown on a 1-yard keeper.
Worthy, a 6-2, 220-pound senior, was named to the AAC Weekly Honor Roll after pulling in six passes for a career-high 224 yards. Worthy became just the third receiver in ECU history to eclipse the 200-yard mark.
On Monday East Carolina announced that wide receiver Daquan Barnes (back), inside linebacker Desi Brown (leg), outside linebacker Kirk Donaldson (knee), tight end Darren Dowdell (leg) and offensive lineman Christian Matau (knee) are all out indefinitely with long-term injuries.
Inside linebacker Davarus Brunson (knee) is out for the second straight week, while inside linebacker Joe Carter (elbow) is listed as doubtful.