ECU takes on a USF team Saturday that they’ve never beaten.
East Carolina Pirates wide receiver Davon Grayson (85) goes out onto the field before the start of the game against the Southern Methodist Mustangs at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. East Carolina defeated SMU, 45-24. (James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports)
(C+P) — After a weekend that saw perennial powers Alabama, Oregon, and Oklahoma all fall, on what ended up being a historic weekend of upsets, the East Carolina Pirates are simply learning how to avoid their own. It seems like an easy concept to learn, you are the better team just go out and play like it.
Yet Saturday’s like this past one are a clear indication that those margins that seem so big heading into the game, aren’t always quite as clear come kickoff.
“We’re learning that pretty quickly,” East Carolina quarterback Shane Carden said. “We understand we’re going to get teams’ best, and teams are going to be ready to come out and they want to beat us. But it really doesn’t change how we prepare.”
Saturday marked the Pirate’s first game as a ranked team in six years and while they were picked to win by at least 45 points, they soon got their first taste of playing with that ever elusive number before their name. SMU did their best to join the multitude of underdogs wreaking havoc on the Top 25, but ultimately ECU held them off and won handedly 45-24.
“I’m not into points and all that,” ECU head coach Ruffin McNeill said. “I just hope we win by one and get out of there. So I was happy with the win and we’ll grow a lot from this.”
One would expect nothing less from a man that preaches consistency and a one-game-at-a-time mentality. One would also expect nothing less than what Carden showed on Saturday, or at least those within Pirates Nation. Those outside of it probably wouldn’t expect much of anything.
Don’t blame those people, it’s fair really. After all Carden was a walk-on quarterback who spent time playing on the scout team for much of his early years at ECU.
“He played quarterback, fullback and tight end,” said McNeill candidly. “He embraced our team concept of `What can I do to make the team better?’”
The answer to that question probably was not expected to be: ‘break ECU’s all-time career passing yards record’, but that is exactly what Carden did amidst the team’s first conference win of the season.
“They announced it I think way too early,” Carden said in reference to the moment he broke the record in the third quarter. “They were announcing it and everybody was like, ‘Man, congrats.’ I was like, ‘Just stop, let’s go score right here. Let’s finish this game.'”
It seems Carden is learning more than quickly, as this is the exact mindset an aspiring championship team, and quarterback, must have to fend off the upsets that are waiting week in and week out. Ultimately Carden and the Pirates did finish off the drive, as well as the game with a win, which is all that matters in the end, not the team’s ability to cover a spread.
“We want to win by one point and get out of there,” McNeill emphasized once more. “Wins are hard to come by. Trust me, I cherish every single one. I hope everyone feels the same way. There’s no such thing as an ugly win. Ugly is in the dictionary and win is in there, but ugly win is not in there for me. Our kids understand that, too.”
Well at least he hopes they do. After eight of the AP Top 16 teams lost, the ECU Pirates won and moved up to No. 19 in the nation heading into this week’s matchup with South Florida, a team ECU has never beaten.
“No, they don’t talk about that,” McNeill said when asked if his team mentioned its 0-4 record versus former Conference USA rival USF. “We don’t talk about the past because it’s irrelevant. We can’t control what happened in the past. We talk about ourselves and what we have to do to get better. We know we’re facing a team that’s very good, but bringing up what happened in the past really doesn’t help us now.”
To be fair, no players on this team were around the last time ECU and USF shared a field back in 2006. In fact most hadn’t even made it to middle school. So it most certainly was the past, the very much distant past. But if the Pirates have anything to do with it, it’s a past that will soon have a very different future.