East Carolina Pirates: A Somber End to a Special Group

Chris Franklin reviews the East Carolina University Pirates season according to head coach Ruffin McNeill, wide receiver Justin Hardy, and Shane Carden.

Chris Franklin reviews the East Carolina Pirates’ season according to head coach Ruffin McNeill, wide receiver Justin Hardy, and Shane Carden.

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East Carolina Pirates quarterback Shane Carden (5) drops back to throw a pass that is intercepted and ran back for a Florida Gators touchdown in the first quarter of the 2015 Birmingham Bowl (Frank Stephens III-Coach & Player Magazine)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (C+P) — There is not a happy ending to this story.

You would think that a school with the best quarterback in its history and the FBS all-time receptions leader would ride off into the collegiate sunset and celebrate a victory in front of 30,083 people.  East Carolina fans thought that this story would end with a Pirate victory.

The duo of Shane Carden & Justin Hardy played their final game as Pirates at Legion Field in the Birmingham Bowl.  Even though the Pirates fell to the Florida Gators 28-20, the seniors left their mark on the Pirate program; a mark that will place them as part of one of the best senior classes ever.

Carden set Birmingham Bowl records in completions (34), pass attempts (66) and yards (427).  Included in his stat line were two touchdowns and two interceptions.  The Pirates were able to have success through the use of the back shoulder fade routes and wide receiver screens.  Hardy also set a Birmingham Bowl record in receptions (11) that totaled 160 yards and a touchdown.  After the game, the Pirates appeared to be very emotional.  All of the participants at the post-game press conference seemed to be overcome with their emotions; knowing that the journey that they had been on together had finished.

One of the most interesting things said after the game came from head coach Ruffin McNeil.

Family means everything to me.  In that locker room, I have 120 kids and about 20 personnel that have done everything that I asked.  That will be the last time that we spend together as a group.  The locker room is one of the most remarkable human laboratories for development.”

Even going back as far as the American Athletic Conference media day, McNeil had tried to convey that point across when he delivered his address in July.  It is evident that his players would fight hard for their coach into a battle, the sign of a good leader.

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East Carolina Pirates wide-receiver Justin Hardy (2) being chased down Florida Gators defenders during the 2015 Birmingham Bowl (Frank Stephens III-Coach & Player Magazine)

“You never want to go out losing” added Justin Hardy. “As a senior and playing your final collegiate game, you do not want to lose.  It is going to take some time, but life goes on.”

His quarterback shared the same sentiment.

“Losing is tough, but I am not going to look back on my career and think it was a disappointment just because we lost the last game.  We have done a lot of good things together as a senior group.  You know, it is football.  You lose games sometimes.  It is just a part of it.”

For Carden and Hardy, they have one more chance to play on the same team during the Reese’s Senior Bowl.  There is not a happy ending to this story.  A little bit after the game, it began to rain again.  It was symbolism at its finest moment.  Now the Pirates will regroup and find some new leaders for next season.

So should the season be summed up by one game?  It should not according to McNeil.  He put this current season and the senior class in perspective:

“Look at the body of work, not today’s work.  Look at what these guys have done their entire career. These guys have done so many positive things for this university.  They left a blueprint and a mold that I will use as long as East Carolina keeps me.  We talk about commitment to the team, dedication to the team and focusing on the vision.”

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