The East Carolina Pirates have not exactly been road warriors this season, but on Black Friday they managed to push their way past Tulsa and pick up a precious 49-32 victory.
The win, which kept alive their hopes of putting together back-to-back 10-win seasons, snapped a two-game road losing streak for East Carolina (8-3, 5-2 AAC) and was its first victory away from Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium since Oct. 11.
“I’m very proud of our guys. That was a team win,” East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill said after the game. “Wins on the road in our conference are hard. You can see that each week.”
It was on the road that East Carolina’s dreams of playing in a premier bowl game ended, as the Pirates, ranked No. 23 in the first edition of the College Football Playoff Poll, fumbled five times during a rain-soaked 20-10 loss to Temple in Philadelphia.
The next game the elements changed, but the results did not. East Carolina battled bitter 20-plus degree temperatures at Cincinnati before losing 54-46, all but eliminating the Pirates from AAC title contention.
On Friday, ECU’s road troubles continued early, as it clung to a 21-14 halftime lead over a Tulsa team that managed only two wins. However, the Pirates, led by another dynamic performance by senior quarterback Shane Carden, blew past the Golden Hurricane in the second half to win their final road game of the regular season.
“It was very big. We have to understand that this league is very tough from top to bottom,” McNeill said. “Every game is going to be a fistfight, and that’s how we approached it.”
Carden was the key, as the senior threw for 338 yards and four touchdowns, while his 2-yard TD run at the start of the fourth helped push the Pirates’ lead to 42-25.
Defensively, ECU played well in key spots, holding Tulsa to 5-of-16 on third downs, while grabbing two interceptions and returning one for a score.
Inside linebacker Zeek Bigger racked up a game-high 14 tackles and took a Dane Evans pass back 22 yards for a touchdown that capped a 21-0 ECU run in the second half that ended with the Pirates up 49-25 with 11 minutes, 23 seconds left in the fourth.
Evans, the AAC’s third-leading passer, was held to 199 yards on 15-for-32 passing.
Aside from keeping ECU in the running for a double-digit win total, the victory also means it won’t take a three-game road losing streak into its bowl game.
McNeill’s and the Pirates’ focus is squarely on their showdown with AAC leaders Central Florida (8-3, 6-1) in Thursday night’s regular season finale.
“I was proud of the way we stayed focused on our mission all week long, and now we will begin focusing immediately on our next game,” McNeill said.