CHAPEL HILL – Bragging will be loud and purple for the next 12 months.
East Carolina quarterback Shane Carden accounted for six touchdowns, running back Vintavious Cooper accounted for 256 yards of total offense and double-digit underdog East Carolina routed North Carolina, 55-31, on Saturday at Kenan Memorial Stadium.
“That’s a happy locker room there,” East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill said. “... To get the win was big. Having played in this game (as a player), I’ve been asked about that quite a bit. It’s special.”
The Pirates’ (3-1, 1-0 Conference USA) win against the Tar Heels was the third in program history and first in Chapel Hill since 1975. ECU’s 55 points were the most it ever has scored against North Carolina (1-3, 0-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) in the 16 games in which the series has been played.
East Carolina racked up 603 yards of offense and ran 101 plays, the most ever for a North Carolina opponent.
The loss was North Carolina’s worst loss at Kenan since losing, 41-10, there to N.C. State in 2008.
“It’s hard for me to tell you what went wrong when everything went wrong,” North Carolina coach Larry Fedora said.
East Carolina’s offense did whatever it pleased in the game’s early stages as it raced to a 21-3 lead.
Carden hit six of his first seven passes, including a six-yard touchdown pass to Justin Hardy, on ECU’s first possession of the game, then he hit four of five on another scoring drive set up by Chip Thompson’s interception of North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner.
Carden’s seven-yard strike to Lane Ray gave East Carolina a 14-0 lead.
“We wanted to be balanced,” Carden said. “We’d gotten into a little too much run here or pass there, and we came out and wanted to be balanced, take shots, stretch the field and get their defensive backs thinking a little bit.”
The Pirates’ front four pressured North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner without the help of blitzers, and the Tar Heels’ only first-half trip to the redzone stalled and ended with a field goal.
The Tar Heels picked off Carden but couldn’t turn it into points, which led to Carden's one-yard touchdown run on the next ECU possession.
“I don’t know if there was anybody offensively that was any good in the first half,” Fedora said. “I mean, really… I’m not sure we did anything right in the first half.”
North Carolina’s lone touchdown of the first half came on a trick play in which wide receiver Quinshad Davis took a pitch in the backfield and threw a 32-yard touchdown to T.J. Thorpe.
East Carolina again took an 18-point lead with Carden’s second one-yard touchdown run minutes later, however, and the teams headed into halftime with the Pirates holding a 28-10 lead.
“We did a great job of running the ball, the offensive line played outstanding – they got up front and played physical in the run and the pass game,” Carden said. “I had plenty of time back there.”
Carden ran for yet another one-yard touchdown run on the Pirates’ first possession of the second half, which gave East Carolina a 35-10 lead.
With a 25-point cushion and no signs of North Carolina slowing its offense, East Carolina was content to trade scores the rest of the way.
Renner threw touchdown passes to Bug Howard and Nic Platt, but with the Tar Heels unable to keep Cooper and the Pirates off the field, North Carolina never came closer than 14 points.
Cooper’s 186 yards rushing were a career high.
“It felt amazing, definitely felt good to come out against a great opponent, a big rivalry game against the Tar Heels,” Cooper said. “It wasn’t based on just trying to have an individual standout day but it happened, and I’m excited that it did.”
Carden finished 32-for-47 for 376 with three passing touchdowns and an interception. Twelve different Pirates caught a pass.
Renner finished 28-for-46 with three touchdowns, an interception and a career-high 366 yards passing.
McNeill expressed happiness for his players, all of whom beat North Carolina for the first time in their careers.
“If you know me by now, it’s about the kids,” McNeill said. “If the kids win, then the program wins. If the program wins, the university wins.”
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or npiotrowicz@ rmtelegram.com