East Carolina gives us a kick
Pirates provide many thrills, including winning FG
The best college football team in North Carolina is Appalachian State. Who's second?
It's East Carolina. Forget Murphy to Manteo. The new refrain is Boone to Greenville. It doesn't exactly roll off the tongue. But if you say it enough the next three months, it might.
The Pirates beat North Carolina Saturday 34-31. You didn't have to make the four-hour drive from Charlotte to watch. You had the privilege.
The first play from scrimmage was a pass in the flat to a 255-pound fullback, and North Carolina's Bobby Rome rumbled for 53 yards. It took four tacklers and a runaway truck to bring the man down.
East Carolina's first drive ended with a third-down screen pass that went 78 yards for a touchdown.
The next drive was understated. North Carolina concluded it with a 37-yard touchdown pass to former Independence High star Hakeem Nicks.
Now the teams were loose and the warm-up completed. North Carolina threw touchdown passes of 39 and 51 yards and returned a punt 58 yards for a touchdown. East Carolina threw touchdown passes of 15 and 24 yards.
There was even a 4-yard touchdown run in there. Who would have expected that?
East Carolina kicker Ben Hartman, a former walk-on, missed field goals of 30, 32 and 37 yards. On his final attempt, from 39 yards with the score tied and two seconds remaining, he took four steps back, three steps left, and finally was perfect.
Between touchdowns there were hits you could hear in the parking lot, a 12-yard punt, pre-game and halftime blasts of Jimi Hendrix and a crowd at East Carolina's Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium as crazy and as loud as any in the state.
East Carolina and North Carolina ought to get together more. The schools are less than two hours apart, but the road from Chapel Hill rarely leads east. The teams played six times in the 1970s and twice in the '80s, always in Chapel Hill.
After a 20-year break, they resumed the rivalry in 2001. Saturday's game was the third this decade and second straight in Greenville.
East Carolina asked fans to treat their guests nicely. But when those guests deign to show up twice in four decades, you expect the purple Pirate fans to clap politely and hand out cold water and breath mints?
Yet even the Pirates had to appreciate the artistry of North Carolina quarterback T.J. Yates. A redshirt freshman, Yates handled the ball like a point guard, faking handoffs, fooling the defense, throwing deep passes so soft his receivers merely had to pluck the ball out of the air. He threw for 344 yards.
He also played only two years in high school and is only 20 years old.
The Pirates attacked with a playground offense. Theirs is a testament to misdirection, and junior quarterback Patrick Pinkney was brilliant. He ran as well as any back on the field, changing his mind, changing direction and, no matter how heavily he was pursued, never even thinking about panicking.
He passed for 406 yards. How raw is he? Even though the team's top quarterback was suspended last week, Pinkney, 21, still didn't start.
N.C. State will play in Greenville next month. So the ACC knows how to find this place. Do the Mountaineers?