There may come a time when the Pirates reflect on the 2014 season and dwell on back-to-back losses to Temple and Cincinnati. Now, however, is not one of those times.
“It was a disappointing loss,” East Carolina head coach Ruffin McNeill said referring to the Pirates 54-46 defeat at the hands of the Bearcats on Thursday. “ We’re looking forward, not looking back. When you look back that’s the direction you will be going. So our eyes are forward and will stay there.”
The Pirates (6-3, 3-2 AAC) were riding high just a few weeks ago. East Carolina earned a No. 23 ranking in the first-ever College Football Playoff Poll and was in line to play in a major bowl game. However, a 20-10 loss to Temple took them out of the New Year’s Day bowl picture.
On Thursday night, East Carolina saw its AAC title hopes come to a virtual end when Cincinnati (6-3, 4-1 AAC) overcame a 46-45 deficit with a minute left in the fourth quarter.
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“We made some plays there to give us an opportunity to win on all three sides of the ball,” McNeill said. “On all three sides of the ball we missed some chances. It’s very disappointing because of the effort the kids put it.”
With a premier bowl game and a conference title in the rearview mirror, the Pirates have no choice but to look forward and salvage what’s left of a season that began with so much promise.
“The first thing I told (the players) was to keep their heads up. There’s still a lot to accomplish,” McNeill said. “What happens is you may get stuck on one goal and think that’s it. That’s not how we do it. That’s not the proper way to do it. I think the proper way for us is to have a number of goals, and we still have a number of goals we’re shooting for.”
With three regular season games left to play and one bowl game, the Pirates still have a chance to record back 10-win seasons for the first time in school history. However, McNeill’s focus remains locked on ECU’s matchup Saturday with Tulane (3-7, 2-4).
“We divide the season into quarters, and we’re in the fourth quarter right now,” McNeill said. “It’s like a boxing match and we have three rounds left in this match. The first punch will be versus Tulane this weekend.”
Hardy dropped from Biletnikoff Award watch list: On Monday, the 10 semifinalists for the Biletnikoff Award were announced and East Carolina’s record-setting wide receiver Justin Hardy was not one of them. Hardy, who rose from walk-on status to become East Carolina’s all-time leader in career receptions (346), receiving yards (4,049) and touchdown receptions (32), stands four catches away from breaking Ryan Broyles FBS record for receptions (349), but still did not make the cut.
When informed of Hardy’s snub on Monday, the normally reserved McNeill was quick to anger.
“That’s the most idiotic thing I’ve ever heard in my life. That’s the most idiotic thing I’ve ever heard in my life, that they would not put that young man on there,” McNeill said. “What are you looking for, a student? He’s already graduated. He’s made the Dean’s List. He’s getting ready to break the all-time (record).
“. Justin Hardy’s not on it? I don’t know who’s picking that. I don’t mince any words. I hope these words get back to whoever chose. And my number is right here, I’m here all day. That’s one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard.”
Hardy, who had 15 catches for 188 yards and a touchdown versus Cincinnati, has 80 receptions on the season for 1,002 yards and seven scores. Hardy’s 8.9 receptions per game ranks third nationally, while his 111.3 receiving yards per contest is eighth in the country.
Injury report: East Carolina defense end Damage Bailey and wide receiver Trevon Brown will both be out Saturday with knee injuries.