Resilient Rice sinks East Carolina, 18-17, on last-second field goal
Owls score nine points in the final 2:37 to pull out their sixth win
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 18-17 loss at Rice on Saturday.
Skip Holtz and his Pirates traveled to Houston on Saturday with one goal—defeat Rice and lock up the CUSA East Division title. With a win, East Carolina would have ensured that it would return to Houston on December 1 st to face the Cougars in the league’s championship game.
However, in Houston, the Pirates had a problem. The problem was they were playing Todd Graham’s upstart Rice Owls, who won for the sixth time in their last seven games. Sure, East Carolina did not have its best game, but Rice definitely had a lot to do with that. The turnaround that Graham and company have executed has been remarkable.
Rice’s Clark Fangmeier had a long field goal of 37 yards on the season, thus Todd Graham elected to try and get closer. Quinton Smith carried for three yards on first down and then Shepherd threw incomplete on second.
Faced with third and seven at the Pirates’ 22-yard line, Todd Graham opted to kick the field goal in case anything went awry and it got blocked. The Owls would then be able to attempt it again on fourth down if they recovered the blocked try.
This would be a moot point. Following two East Carolina timeouts, which were primarily used as attempts to ice the Owls’ kicker, Clark Fangmeier split the uprights on a career-long 40-yard field goal.
The Pirates’ attempt to emulate “The Play” from the 1982 California-Stanford game failed at the ECU 46-yard line after probably ten backward passes. The result? The Owls won their fifth consecutive game and gained bowl eligibility. The Rice students poured onto the field from right behind the Pirates’ bench and the celebration was on.
East Carolina led for the majority of the game, but it was unable to put the Owls away. The loss was a costly one for the Pirates, as now they must rely on Marshall to defeat Southern Miss if they are going to win the CUSA East.
Despite ECU’s success this season, the offense had failed to take care of business at times and that came to a head on Saturday. ECU was facing one of the worst defenses in the nation, but could only muster 301 yards in the game, which included 95 in the second half.
Brandon Fractious, who rushed for 83 yards on ten carries in the opening half, did not touch the ball in the second half. This appeared to be a coaches’ decision, which was perhaps due to the staff being satisfied with Fractious’ pass protection.
James Pinkney and the Pirate passing game struggled mightily on the day. The Pirate senior signal-caller had a day much like the Tulsa game, throwing for only 83 yards on a 10-of-17 performance. He also threw two interceptions.
Aundrae Allison did record six receptions, but was limited to 39 yards. The Rice defense did a tremendous job of preventing big plays through the air.
East Carolina rushed for 218 yards in the loss, which included a 43-yard sprint for a touchdown by Chris Johnson in the third quarter that gave ECU a 17-9 lead. However, the Pirates were unable to run the ball at the end when it counted.ECU must have short memory, though, as they must bounce back for a game in Raleigh against NC State. It is a game in which the Pirates have an opportunity to decide their bowl fate.