College Football: East Carolina 29, Appalachian State 24: Salisbury’s Robinson has critical late sack
By Aaron Beard
Associated PressGREENVILLEó East Carolina spent the first half of its season opener Saturday looking ready to live up to its crash-the-BCS talk.
The Pirates spent the rest of the game just trying to hold on to a win.
Dominique Lindsay ran for 105 yards and a touchdown to help the Pirates take a big first-half lead, then Salisbury’s Scotty Robinson came through with a critical sack in the final minute to help East Carolina turn away Appalachian State’s late rally and win 29-24.
It was a frustrating afternoon for the Pirates. They looked downright dominant in the first half in front of a sellout crowd, scoring on their first three drives and leading 24-0 before the Mountaineers even managed a first down. Yet by the end, with its offense shut down, its defense fighting for every stop and a line of players battling cramps, they could only feel relieved.
“The bottom line is you’re trying to win a football game,” coach Skip Holtz said. “Do I wish we would have played better? Yes. Do we have a long way to go? Yes. Will my temperament in this team meeting room (Sunday) be positive and upbeat and Chuckles the Clown? No, it will not be.”
Appalachian State, the nation’s top-ranked Football Championship Subdivision team, didn’t look like it would recreate the same magic from its upset of Michigan in 2007. The Mountaineers were without reigning FCS player of the year Armanti Edwards, who led them to three straight national championships, as he recovered from a foot injury suffered during a lawnmower accident last month.
They were facing a team that earned national rankings last season by beating Virginia Tech and West Virginia on the way to the Conference USA championship.
Yet with Edwards watching from the sideline, backup quarterback Travaris Cadet came on in relief of starter DeAndre Presley and fell just short of directing an unbelievable comeback.
“We gave them everything we had and we were wearing them down,” left tackle Mario Acitelli said. “They were out of shape. They were tired. (But) there’s only 60 minutes in a football game and we didn’t get it done in 60 minutes.”
The Mountaineers started their final drive at their own 24 with 1:28 to play and no timeouts. That drive reached midfield before Robinson came through with a desperately needed sack that backed up the Mountaineers and cost them precious seconds. Three plays later, Cadet’s fourth-down pass for CoCo Hillary fell incomplete to seal the Pirates’ harder-than-it-should’ve-been win with 16 seconds left.
“It was a sense of urgency going through everybody on the field,” Robinson said. “We needed one stop ó one sack ó to stop the drive. That’s the only thing we were all thinking about: trying to get to the quarterback and get him down.”
East Carolina finished with 189 yards rushing, which included a 39-yard touchdown from Brandon Jackson on his first carry as a Pirate barely 2 minutes into the game. But after watching East Carolina run over and through its defenders, the Appalachian State coaches adjusted at halftime.
Patrick Pinkney and the Pirates didn’t respond to that challenge. He was off all day and finished with 131 yards passing and a touchdown with two interceptions, while ECU managed just four first downs and 53 yards in the second half.
Things will have to get better quickly. East Carolina travels to West Virginia next week, then to No. 21 North Carolina on Sept. 19.
“It’s definitely a wake-up call,” Lindsay said. “We went into the locker room and I guess some guys had the attitude that, ‘We’ve got this wrapped up.”‘
As the Mountaineers started getting stops, their offense finally built some needed momentum behind Cadet. First he directed a drive that ended with Devon Moore’s 1-yard TD run early in the fourth to make it 29-14, then he capped the next drive with his own 1-yard touchdown that made it 29-21 with 8:41 to play.
Jason Vitaris added a 43-yard field goal with 3:24 left, then Appalachian State forced a three-and-out on East Carolina’s next possession to set up its frantic final drive.
“Sometimes you have to overcome a little adversity to show what you have,” Appalachian State coach Jerry Moore said. “There are a lot of teams that could have come into this stadium and lost by 50 points since East Carolina is that good.”