Don’t hold back. That was the message East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill delivered to his players as they approached the final game of the regular season.
On Thursday night, the Pirates (8-3, 5-2 American Athletic) will host former Conference USA rival Central Florida (8-3, 6-1) in a game that will be nationally televised on ESPN.
The contest will be the last at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium for a star-studded senior class that includes quarterback Shane Carden, wide receiver Justin Hardy, linebacker Brandon Williams and nose tackle Terry Williams, to name a few.
“The biggest thing to me is that it’s Senior Night. When I talked to our seniors, I can look at them and identify exactly what they’re going through. I don’t have to read about it. I’ve gone through the exact same thing they’re going through,” said McNeill, a former ECU football player. “There will be some emotion with these guys. I’m not going to hide it. I’m not going to ask them to suppress it. I want them to enjoy it.”
The Pirates are hoping the Knights’ visit isn’t as enjoyable. Central Florida needs a win to clinch a share of the conference title with Memphis (9-3, 7-1).
If preventing the Knights from celebrating on ECU’s home turf is added motivation, McNeill gave no hint of it.
“It’s not about that,” he said. “It’s just about making sure we have a great Senior Day, and I want to win by one. I’m not getting into stopping this or preventing that. That’s not the way I approach it. I just want to practice well and win at home.”
East Carolina, 5-0 at home, leads the series against Central Florida 9-3 but fell 40-20 in its last meeting Oct. 4, 2012, in Orlando, Fla.
Ivey out: Senior strong safety Lamar Ivey will be out for Thursday’s game after injuring his right wrist during the first half of the 49-32 win at Tulsa.
Ivey, who has started every game this season, is the Pirates’ fourth-leading tackler with 58 stops.
Taking his place will be sophomore Terrell Richardson, who has eight tackles in 10 appearances this year, including the three that he made subbing for Ivey against Tulsa. Richardson will be backed up by freshman Bobby Fulp, whose three tackles have come on special teams.
“I expect (Richardson and Fulp) to perform at a high level. They’re good players,” McNeill said. “With no hesitation we put Terrell in (against Tulsa), and I think you saw how he played. Bobby’s tall, rangy and he can hit. He’s mobile and plays a lot on special teams. I have a lot of confidence in Bobby. I have no hesitation putting Bobby in or Terrell.”
Aside from Ivey, the Pirates will be without wide receiver Trevon Brown (knee) and defensive back Cody Purdie (wrist).