Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 24, 2013

RALEIGH — For the second time this year, Shane Carden and his East Carolina teammates savored an easy road win against an instate rival from the Atlantic Coast Conference.
And as quickly as the clock expired Saturday, the Pirates were already thinking ahead to their conference championship chase.
Carden threw three touchdown passes and ran for two scores in the 42-28 win against North Carolina State, while Justin Hardy had a first-quarter TD catch and set the school’s single-season record for receiving yards. It was East Carolina’s fifth straight win and marked the first time ECU (9-2) had beaten North Carolina and N.C. State in the same season, yet the Pirates know they have a lot more to play for — namely a trip to the Conference USA championship game.
“It definitely means a good bit,” running back Vintavious Cooper said of the UNC-N.C. State sweep. “I know it probably means a lot more to the fans. But at the same time, we have bigger fish to fry than Carolina and N.C. State.”
Friday’s trip to Marshall will give the Pirates the chance to clinch that title-game ticket, along with the program’s first 10-win season in 22 years.
Fourth-year coach Ruffin McNeill was concerned about stepping away from that conference focus to play an instate rivalry game. His players handled it just fine.
“It was tough to prepare for, but the kids did a great job of separating the two,” McNeill said. “Immediately after the game, they were ready to move on and get ready for Marshall as a group.”
East Carolina led 21-7 at halftime and 35-7 entering the fourth. The Pirates were so dominant that they drove thousands of Wolfpack fans to the Carter-Finley Stadium exits by the start of the fourth quarter, leaving more fans wearing ECU purple than the home red for the final 15 minutes.
Carden went as far as to say hearing the ECU fans loudly chanting “Purple! Gold!” early in the fourth after Wolfpack fans had fled was “one of the coolest moments I’ve had here at ECU.”
“You play two instate teams in a bigger conference, you beat them pretty good, obviously that feels good for your team,” Carden said. “It means you’re doing something right, but again, there’s always something we could get better at.”
It was another ugly moment in a season full of them for N.C. State (3-8), which lost its seventh straight under first-year coach Dave Doeren. The highlight for the Wolfpack was scoring three touchdowns in the final 51/2 minutes, long after the Pirates had put the game away.
“We played until the end and I’m very proud of our guys for that,” Doeren said.
“We didn’t make enough plays defensively or offensively in the first half. And when we came alive in the fourth quarter, unfortunately, it was a little too late.”
The game felt a lot like the Pirates’ 55-31 win at North Carolina on Sept. 28. In that one, the Pirates pushed the Tar Heels around on their home field for their first win at Kenan Stadium in nearly four decades. Saturday’s win was ECU’s first at Carter-Finley since 2006.
N.C. State closes its season next week at home against Maryland seeking to avoid its first 0-8 record in ACC play.
Carden threw for 255 yards on 23-for-30 passing, finding Hardy for a 3-yard score on the game’s first drive then Bryce Williams for a 5-yard score early in the second. Carden ran for a 3-yard touchdown later in the quarter to make it 21-7, then added a 1-yard keeper midway through the third to push the lead to 28-7.
He closed his day with a 25-yard scoring pass to Lance Ray with 1:56 left, making it 42-14.
Cooper ran for 148 yards on 22 carries for East Carolina, while Breon Allen added a short rushing touchdown in the third.
Brandon Mitchell threw for season-high 312 yards with four touchdowns for the Wolfpack, the first coming when he Tony Creecy for a 4-yard score in the first quarter.