GREENVILLE – A week after East Carolina couldn’t score a touchdown soon enough to save its life, the Pirates couldn’t stop scoring against Southern Miss.
ECU stomped the Golden Eagles, 55-14, in the final scheduled meeting between the long-standing rivals in a soggy game at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium that was every bit the drenching the scoreboard suggested.
The ECU team which didn’t score a touchdown until the final two minutes of regulation last weekend in a triple-overtime loss at Tulane scored early and often against a hapless Southern Miss squad that couldn’t produce 100 yards of total offense in the first half while ECU charged up more than 350. Nothing changed in the second half, as the Pirates coasted to the finish line with almost exclusively backups on the field.
“Southern Miss coming in here (Saturday) was a dangerous team,” ECU coach Ruffin McNeill said. “We knew they were going to be athletic. We knew they had not won a game. When knew we had to come out ready to go, and that’s the thing. We were.”
Already leading 31-0 at halftime, the Pirates (5-2 overall, 3-1 C-USA) tacked on a third quarter touchdown reception by Bryce Williams, rushing scores from reserve backs Breon Allen and Chris Hairston and a Warren Harvey field goal to offset the Golden Eagles’ lone pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter. The win kept ECU in the thick of things in Conference USA’s East Division and simultaneously pushed Southern Miss’ losing streak (0-6, 0-3) to 18 straight.
ECU quarterback Shane Carden neared 300 yards passing by halftime, and when he left the game for good midway through the third quarter, he had amassed 308 pass yards and accounted for four touchdowns. Junior receiver Justin Hardy stayed on his hot streak with 10 catches for 126 yards and a touchdown – all in the first half.
“It always feels a lot better when you get touchdowns instead of leaving your kicker out there for field goals,” Carden said. “We want to get touchdowns, and we’re in the business of that. ... It feels great to get back on track.”
Carden led the quick start with a resounding 281 pass yards (26-for-33) and three total touchdowns in the first two quarters. Hardy was on pace with him, reeling in all 10 of his catches in two periods, including a spectacular leap and one-handed grab in the end zone to snare Carden’s fade pass on the opening drive of the contest.
The touchdown play extend ECU’s opening-drive scoring streak to seven games this season.
Later in the first quarter, Carden was rushed to his right on third-and-goal before seeing Isaiah Jones (six receptions, 43 yards, touchdown) standing all alone in the end zone for an 11-yard touchdown and a 14-0 cushion.
In the second, Vintavious Coope, who gained a team-high rush 54 yards and had touchdown all in first half, exploded on a 21-yard run on which he moved to his right past two would-be tackles before a hard cut left to finish off a 10-play drive and make it 21-0 Pirates.
“We always want to start fast,” said Cooper, part of a three-man rotation at tailback. “To start out fast, get the offense rolling and get momentum going through the whole game, that says a lot about our offense.”
Carden then scored his fifth one-yard rush touchdown of the season before Harvey tacked on a 27-yard field goal to run the Pirates’ lead to 31-0 before the break.
After giving up a 35-yard rush on the first play from scrimmage, the ECU defense tightened the screws, allowing just 94 yards of total offense in the first half.
Magazu’s third interception in three games late in the second quarter led to the Harvey field goal.
Even bigger early in the game was the Pirates’ big stop on a Southern Miss fourth-and-two play late in the first quarter. Tudor and Thompson broke through the line and hammered Southern Miss running back George Payne for a one-yard loss.
Tyre Bracken led the Southern Miss rush with 44 yards, while backup quarterback Nick Mullens (97 pass yards) played most of the game, including tossing touchdown passes to Marquise Ricard and Bruce Johnson in the fourth quarter.