East Carolina unaffected by latest hiccup
By Joedy McCreary
GREENVILLE ó For East Carolina, it was a familiar result: Another road loss in November to a losing Conference USA team.
The new twists for these Pirates were the consequences ó there seemingly weren’t any. For a change, that late-season defeat might not wind up costing the Pirates a division title.
“I don’t think anybody’s hanging their head over the loss,” coach Skip Holtz said Monday.
That’s because East Carolina remains in control of its fate despite its 17-3 loss at Southern Mississippi. It needs only to win one of its remaining two games to clinch a spot in the C-USA championship game and wrap up the first East Division in school history.
All that, even though ó for a third straight year ó the Pirates dropped a late-season game that they probably shouldn’t have.
“We continue to talk about the growth of this program and how we’re trying to build from year in and year out,” Holtz said. “We’re still in a position to turn and achieve a lot of the goals that we wanted to achieve during the beginning of the season. So there’s a lot of people right now that aren’t playing (for much), don’t have a chance at a bowl game, don’t have a chance at anything to say about the conference, and they’re trying to play the role of spoiler.
“There’s not a whole lot of teams with two games left that still have something to play for.”
That the stakes remain high for East Carolina (6-4, 4-2) despite that defeat makes for a reversal of recent history for this proud program.
In each of the previous two seasons, the Pirates needed only to beat a sub-.500 league opponent on its home field to wrap up the division and seal a spot in the league title game. Rice spoiled East Carolina’s chances in 2006 on a late field goal, and Marshall did it last year when the Thundering Herd won in a 26-7 rout.
Now, because the rest of the East is mediocre at best, only a complete collapse will keep the Pirates out of the league title game.
“They understand where we are right now,” Holtz said.
If East Carolina wins either at UAB this week or at home against UTEP on the day after Thanksgiving ó or even if it drops both games and several other East teams also lose ó the Pirates will meet the West Division champion with a Liberty Bowl berth on the line.
Of course, if this season has taught Holtz and the Pirates anything, it’s that they can’t afford to look too far ahead.
Barely two months have passed since East Carolina was the talk of college football after upsetting nationally ranked Virginia Tech and West Virginia, rising to No. 14 and surfacing as the next BCS buster.
Just as quickly, the Pirates plummeted out of the polls with three losses. The midseason grind was marked by injuries to enough key players to seemingly fill a depth chart.
“We’ve got a one-game season, and we’ve got to try to find a way to win this one,” Holtz said. “I’m trying to stay away from the big picture right now. I think we’ve got way too much to look at, in-house, to start looking at what’s going on on the outside. I think we have to control what we can control.”