After the thrilling come-from-behind victory over Florida last Saturday, the football team wanted to avoid the dreaded “letdown” against East Carolina on Saturday night. Thanks to a few forced turnovers in the second half on defense and timely offense, the ‘Canes were able to escape any possible drama and cruise to a 38-3 victory at the Orange Bowl.
The game was relatively close after three quarters, with the Hurricanes clinging to a 17-3 lead, but a fumble recovered in the end zone by Santonio Thomas, a forced fumble by Antrel Rolle, and a career-long 48-yard touchdown run by Jarrett Payton helped sink the Pirates in the fourth quarter.
Head Coach Larry Coker credited the defense with revitalizing the Orange Bowl crowd and turning the game into a blowout.
“Our defense really stepped up in the second half and created some turnovers. When we create turnovers we get to be a very exciting football team,” Coker said following the game.
The offense was led by Frank Gore, who had 139 yards rushing on 24 carries and a touchdown. Gore also became the first Hurricane to rush for 100 yards or more in his first three starts.
Despite breaking the record, Gore was a little disappointed in his performance.
“They told me about the record, and I’m happy that I did it, but I feel that I should have had more yards tonight,” he said.
Roscoe Parrish led the receiving corps with four catches for 83 yards and a touchdown, and freshman Ryan Moore had three catches for 31 yards.
Junior quarterback Brock Berlin was able to put last week’s emotional win behind him and complete 13 of 23 passes for 179 yards, a touchdown, and an interception.
The Pirates were led by tailback Marvin Townes, who gained 78 yards on 16 carries, and wide receiver Terrance Copper, who caught seven passes for 68 yards. Junior quarterback Desmond Robinson went 14 for 21 with 117 yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions.
The Hurricanes struck early when Berlin hit Parrish for a 50-yard touchdown on their third play from scrimmage. Berlin said that the team had been preaching the importance of getting off to a good start.
“I think it was important for us to get a quick score and that was our theme for the week, to start fast, and we were able to,” he said.
Berlin’s only shaky moment of the game came later on in the first quarter when the Florida transfer’s pass was picked off by Kent Nealy of East Carolina. The ‘Canes defense made their first of several big plays on the ensuing drive when Sean Taylor intercepted Robinson’s second-down pass, his second pick of the season.
The Hurricanes had their first sustained drive in the second quarter, when Berlin went to Moore on three consecutive third-down plays, with the first two throws resulting in first-downs and the third drawing a critical pass interference penalty on the Pirates. Gore punched in a one-yard touchdown run to give the ‘Canes a 14-0 lead.
Jon Peattie added a 38-yard field goal to give UM a 17-0 lead at halftime.
The ‘Canes came out a bit sloppy in the second half, letting East Carolina hang around during the third quarter. A Gore fumble with 12:13 left in the quarter led to a Cameron Broadwell field goal, bringing the Pirates within two touchdowns at 17-3. The score remained unchanged until the fourth quarter.
Coker pointed to Berlin’s first-half interception and Gore’s fumble as what kept the offense from getting into a rhythm.
“We did have a couple of turnovers, an interception and a fumble, and that kept us out of sync,” Coker said.
When the Hurricanes came out for the fourth quarter, they looked ready to put the game away, as Baraka Atkins and Vince Wilfork forced Robinson to fumble on the third play of the quarter, which was recovered in the end zone by Thomas, giving the ‘Canes a 24-3 lead with 14:09 left to play.
The fumble seemed to take the wind out of East Carolina’s sails, as the Pirates’ next drive would result in another turnover, with Rolle causing Robinson to fumble again. Payton would put the nail in the coffin with his aforementioned touchdown run with 11:08 left, and the ‘Canes never looked back.
After the game, the offensive players were quick to defer most of the credit to the defense, as they forced four East Carolina turnovers.
“I give a lot of credit to our defense,” Berlin said. “They stepped up tonight and did an incredible job.”
Although Coker was pleased with his team’s effort, he admits that the Hurricanes are far from peaking as a team.
“As I told our team, we are a work in progress,” Coker said. “We have a lot of work to do.”