East Carolina-Memphis recap: A Tale of Two Halves
CUSA-fans.com has a new staff of team correspondents this fall to help bring you, the fan, more detailed Conference USA football coverage. Today, our ECU Correspondent Thomas "Bubba" Rosenbaum recaps the East Carolina Pirates game againt the Memphis Tigers.
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. These famous words of Charles Dickens in his novel Tale of Two Cities would have been very accurate in summarizing the wild game that took place in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in Greenville, NC on Saturday night. In the end, it was the Pirates who had the best time, winning their home opener by a score of 35-20 before a large, boisterous crowd on Family Weekend at East Carolina.
The Pirates, who entered the game desperately needing a win after losing two heartbreakers on the road at Navy and UAB, were their own worst enemy in the first half. Take nothing away from Martin Hankins and the Memphis offense, however, as they took what was there and ran with it. The East Carolina defense was playing a little soft in its coverage, were not able to get a pass rush on Hankins, and then did not come up and make plays on the perimeter. The result? The Tigers racked up 311 yards, including 209 through the air, as the Pirates weren’t even the smallest of speed bumps, defensively.
Offensively, East Carolina moved the ball very well in the first half, but only put a single touchdown on the board due to suffering a couple of costly turnovers.
Memphis got on the board first as quarterback Martin Hankins hit a wide-open Earnest Williams on a corner route for a 19-yard touchdown.
It appeared as though the Pirates were going to answer and tie the score at 7. They had driven 78 yards to the Tiger 2-yard line, but then Chris Johnson fumbled when attempting to dive over the top and into the end zone on a 3 rd and goal play.
The Tigers took that turnover and drove 98 yards for a touchdown, which made it 14-0 at the beginning of the second quarter. Memphis’ Duke Calhoun capped the drive with an amazing one-handed 23-yard touchdown reception.
Down two scores and with their defense struggling to even slow down Memphis’ offense, ECU needed to respond with a scoring drive of its own and the Pirates were able to do just that. Behind the running of Chris Johnson and a huge 39-yard completion from James Pinkney to Bobby Good, ECU went 80 yards in 10 plays, cutting their deficit to 7 at 14-7.
East Carolina was then the recipient of a huge break as Memphis’ TJ Pitts fumbled the ensuing kickoff when hit by Quentin Cotton and the Pirates’ Jerek Hewett recovered. ECU came up empty-handed though as they didn’t gain a yard in three plays and then Robert Lee’s 39-yard field goal attempt went wide right.
Memphis put together another long touchdown drive, going 78 yards in 12 plays to make the score 20-7. The Pirates looked as if they would respond again, as they moved into Memphis’ territory at the 43-yard line. However, as they did throughout much of the first half, the Pirates killed themselves when quarterback James Pinkney was picked off when he under threw a wheel route to Bobby Good.
Memphis appeared as if they might take a three-touchdown lead into the break, but after they reached the Pirate 26 East Carolina’s Leon Best came up with a huge play when he intercepted Hankins’ pass and ran it back to the ECU 47. Skip Holtz and the Pirates then managed the clock beautifully, getting a 21-yard completion to Steven Rogers and a nine-yarder to Aundrae Allison, thus getting into position for Robert Lee to attempt a 40-yard field goal. Uncharacteristically, Lee missed his second attempt of the half (as many as he had missed in his 13 previous games in the purple and gold) and the Pirates went into the locker room trailing 20-7, but still with some momentum as their defense had finally stopped the Memphis offense.
The East Carolina defense would set the tone for the entire second half as they forced Memphis to go three and out on their opening possession of the second half. James Pinkney was picked off for a second time, but the Pirates got the ball right back as Quentin Cotton intercepted Hankins. Cotton returned it to the Memphis 24, but ECU started its drive at its own 39 following a block in the back. The Pirates didn’t squander this opportunity though as they moved 39 yards in four rushes to close the gap to 20-14. Chris Johnson’s 5-yard touchdown run was set up by an excellent 25-yard run by Pinkney, who showed tremendous balance on the play.
On Memphis’ next possession, the Tigers would get a first down, but then the Pirates forced a punt following stopping Memphis on a third and 15 play. The East Carolina defense did a tremendous job on third down in the second half after allowing Memphis to convert all six attempts in the first half, including three that were eight yards or longer.
As the fourth quarter began, ECU was on the move, but then came up empty-handed after James Pinkney was stuffed on a quarterback sneak on fourth and one from the Tiger 18.
Three plays later, Pirate defensive end Zach Slate made a spectacular play as he deflected Martin Hankins’ pass in the air, caught it, and ran seven yards to give the Pirates a 21-20 lead that they would not relinquish.
The teams would then trade punts before Memphis had the ball at their own 17-yard line with 5:48 left in the game. The Pirates would have to continue their solid second half defensive effort if they wanted to win this one and they did. Safety Pierre Parker intercepted Hankins, the fourth ECU INT of the night, and the Pirates had the ball first and ten at the Tiger 38.
Facing a critical third and five, following a Memphis timeout, James Pinkney hooked up with the Pirates’ biggest receiving threat Aundrae Allison for a 33-yard touchdown that put ECU up 28-20 with 3:34 remaining.
Starting at their own 34, Memphis moved to the ECU 44 yard-line after a key fourth down and nine conversion when Hankins hit Ryan Scott on a slant for 13 yards.
The next play would essentially seal it. Hankins threw his fifth interception of the night, and Kasey Ross returned it 77 yards for a touchdown, setting off a wild celebration inside Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
The game’s final play was reminiscent of how the second half went for Memphis, as Marcus Hands sacked Hankins to end it.
This was the type of win that this East Carolina program needed. It showed the Pirates what is possible when they play to their potential, give the necessary effort and cut down on their mistakes while forcing their opponents to commit some.
The Pirates won this football game by improving on all of their weaknesses and this was seen from the first half to the second half within this game. ECU has struggled running the football, stopping the run, and stopping opponents on third down. In the second half, which the Pirates won 28-0, they did all of these extremely well. The Tigers only converted two of ten third downs in the half. The East Carolina defense also forced six turnovers, giving the Pirates a plus three advantage in the turnover battle.
James Pinkney finished the day 18 of 26 for 236 yards. Nine of those completions were to Aundrae Allison who responded with a huge day (124 yards) following being held without a catch last week at UAB.
The Pirates’ rushing attack nearly doubled their best effort of the season as they gained 177 yards on 39 carries. Chris Johnson had 106 yards on 22 rushes, while Fractious totaled 46 yards on 11.