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College football: Pirates prepare for tough stretch

By Joedy McCreary
Associated PressGREENVILLE ó Somebody reminded Skip Holtz that East Carolina’s three remaining power-conference opponents have a few scores to settle with his Pirates.
“Ssssh!” Holtz said Monday with a laugh. “Don’t tell them that. We don’t want them to remember those.”
Too late. West Virginia, Virginia Tech and North Carolina are plenty aware of one thing they have in common: The last time they played the Pirates, they lost.
Under Holtz during the past four years, East Carolina solidified its reputation as a scrappy underdog willing to take on all comers. But along with those program-building victories came a shift in perception. Now, it’s the big boys from BCS conferences that are taking aim at the Pirates ó starting this week with the Mountaineers (1-0).
“The big mindset this year has been, ‘You’ve got to go earn everything you get,’ ” Holtz said. “Nobody cares what we have returning or what we did a year ago. We have to earn it.”
In other words, East Carolina (1-0) is trying to recapture the same chip-on-the-shoulder mentality that a year ago produced victories over the Mountaineers and Hokies during the opening weeks of the 2008 season.
Holtz said when teams try to protect something, they lose their aggression and play it too close to the vest.
“Hopefully, that’s a lesson we learned a year ago, because I think when we got to 3-0 and everybody started talking about the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow we started playing to protect the pot of gold ó like it was already ours,” Holtz said.
The Pirates knocked off nationally ranked Virginia Tech and West Virginia in consecutive weeks to thrust themselves into the national rankings, generating plenty of bust-the-BCS buzz and spoiling the Pat White-led Mountaineers’ national title hopes.
“I’m not going to make a big deal out of last year ó I don’t live my life revengeful,” West Virginia coach Bill Stewart said. “But I’m sure that 24-3 thrashing we took was an embarrassing loss and a hard lesson for our young people to learn. It showed our football team that we have to do more than just throw on the old gold and blue.”
After this week’s visit to Morgantown, the Pirates travel to North Carolina. In their most recent meeting two years ago, they beat the Tar Heels. East Carolina plays host to the Hokies on Nov. 5.
Those big victories last year led some to anoint the Pirates as a chic pick to challenge for one of the at-large berths in one of the big bowls.
The schedule might give East Carolina plenty of chances to claim enough impressive out-of-conference victories to put them in that conversation. But Holtz clearly isn’t worried about having to match potential BCS busters BYU and Boise State, who beat ranked big names Oklahoma and Oregon in Week 1.
“At this point, we’ve earned one win,” Holtz said, referring to last week’s close victory over Appalachian State. “I don’t want to talk about anything else. We’re going to go try and get our second win.”

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