With the Pirates holding a 14-13 lead over the Tulane Green Wave at halftime, a lot of attention from Pirate Nation was placed on how ECU would respond.
As it played out, the defense held strong, the offense produced a long scoring drive, and ECU never let go of the lead for the remainder of the game. ECU edged out Tulane, 28-23, to move to 7-4 and 6-1 in conference and to keep them alive in the Conference USA Title hunt.
“There’s far more elation winning this game, than hearing UCF lose,” head coach Ruffin McNeill said, commenting on the C-USA East Division standings. “To see the kids happy, the look in their eyes and the sense of accomplishment from our coaches and our players is really priceless. But to win here, and know that UCF lost, means that we have a chance.”
This win for the Pirates was won in the second half. It started with the scoring drive in the third, capped by a 5-yard run by Reggie Bullock to go up 21-13. Then, following a Tulane field goal towards the end of the third quarter, ECU took control in the fourth.
The Pirates went 79 yards on 10 plays and finished with an 11-yard touchdown pass from ECU quarterback Shane Carden to Andrew Bodenheimer, extending the lead to 28-16.
“He had a big time throw to Bode. He was off a little bit on the fade, but Shane will bounce back,” said McNeill. “He’s a young quarterback, still developing, and I’m proud of Shane. He led us and he never got down. He wants to do well for the team, and East Carolina. He’s our quarterback.”
Carden finished the game going 19-33 for 215 yards and 2 touchdowns, also throwing 2 interceptions. He ran the ball seven times for 36 yards and a touchdown, adding to the Pirates total of 172 yards on the ground.
In the games final two minutes, the Green Wave didn’t back down. They scored on a 31-yard pass from Ryan Griffin to Wilson Van Hooser, the biggest pass play on the day for Tulane, to pull within five. The Green Wave attempted an onside kick, but it was caught safely by ECU’s Bodenheimer to end any hope Tulane had for a comeback.
“We just found a win, there is no ugly win- a win is a win,” said Bodenheimer. “And we just found a way to win and the defense helped us out with it.”
Gabril Woullard, who had seven tackles, led the Pirate defense. The unit finished with four sacks on the evening, with three coming in third down situations.
“I was proud of our guys, proud of our defense, and proud of our offense for sticking in. It was a team win,” said McNeill.
The game’s scoring output started in the first quarter when Tulane’s Griffin hit Xavier Rush on a 13-yard toss to go up 7-0. ECU would score on a 7-yard touchdown catch by Justin Hardy and, after a Tulane field goal, a five-yard run by Carden. Green Wave kicker Cairo Santos hit a 43-yard field goal as time expired in the first half to reach the 14-13 score.
The win for the Pirates secured McNeill’s first winning season as ECU’s head coach.
“I didn’t come to East Carolina for it to be a stepping-stone, I’d like for it to be our home,” said McNeill. “I want us to win for seasons, not just a season. We’ll keep working and keep developing.”
The Pirates need conference-rival UCF to lose next week against UAB and a win against Marshall to make the trip to the Conference-USA Championship.
ECU plays host to the Thundering Herd on Nov. 23 at 2 p.m. in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. The game will be presented on the CBS Sports Network.