ECU ROCKS HEELS

Sep. 28, 2013 @ 10:30 PM

North Carolina senior A.J. Blue sensed it at the hotel Saturday morning and on the bus ride to Kenan Stadium, when some of his teammates were talking about things other than the upcoming game against East Carolina.

The running back’s concerns grew in the locker room, when he sensed his teammates were taking the Pirates lightly.

It turned out that Blue was right to be worried.

The Pirates gained 603 yards on 101 plays — the most plays ever run in a single game by a UNC opponent — and ran away with a 55-31 win that had ECU fans celebrating at Kenan for the first time since 1975.

“The second we strapped up our cleats and our pads, certain guys knew that they weren’t going to give 100 percent today,” Blue said. “It’s ECU, and nobody expects to lose to ECU — especially us — so the complacency was definitely there. The lack of focus was there.”

The Tar Heels (1-3) had beaten ECU (3-1) by at least two touchdowns in each of the past four seasons, were 12-2-1 all-time against their in-state rivals and hadn’t lost to them in Chapel Hill in nine games.

But Pirates quarterback Shane Carden threw for three touchdowns and ran for three more, and senior Vintavious Cooper ran for a career-high 186 yards on 35 carries against a Tar Heels defense that once again was plagued by missed tackles and untimely penalties.

“A lot of people, some even at our own university, didn’t have a lot of faith in us going into this week,” Carden said. “We always did.”

Meanwhile, UNC’s offense was held to 10 points on its first eight drives as the running game — this time minus injured starter Romar Morris — again failed to gain traction.

“It’s hard for me to tell you what went wrong when everything went wrong,” Tar Heels coach Larry Fedora said.

Bryn Renner finished 28-of-46 for 366 yards and three touchdowns, but UNC’s only touchdown in the first half came on a 32-yard reverse pass from receiver Quinshad Davis to T.J. Thorpe with 6:33 left in the second quarter.

It was the first receiving touchdown for the sophomore from Jordan High School, who scored as a freshman on a kickoff return against Clemson. Thorpe finished with six catches for 70 yards in his first start as a replacement for injured junior Sean Tapley.

But the Pirates, whose first six possessions in the red zone all ended in touchdowns, scored again to take a 28-10 lead into the break.

There were some boos from the crowd of 60,000 late in the second quarter, and the start of the second half didn’t help the mood. Thorpe only returned the kickoff to UNC’s 8, the Tar Heels went three-and-out, and ECU went 55 yards in seven plays to go up 35-10.

“Definitely not a lot of passion, definitely not a lot of energy,” Blue said. “And sometimes you don’t have to be as talented as a team to win, you just have to have energy and passion and that’s what we lacked today.”

UNC sophomore Quinshad Davis fought through pass interference to catch a 56-yard touchdown pass and bring UNC within 14 with 13:52 left, but the Pirates put the game away with another long scoring drive, and sealed the win with a 48-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-1 with 3:33 remaining.

“You have to play the game with passion, you have to play it with enthusiasm, you have to play it with energy, no matter what happens,” Fedora said. “You can’t let one play affect the next play, and we obviously don’t have that right now.”

After starting the year with hopes of playing in its first ACC title game, UNC is now 1-3, and the next two games may be the two toughest ones left – at Virginia Tech and home against No. 15 Miami.

“We’re going to find out who we are,” Fedora said. “You find out about yourself when things are bad, and right now they’re bad.”

ECU coach Ruffin McNeill had a rosier outlook on his team.

“Those kids have done a good job,” McNeill said. “They’ve invested a lot into the program. They’ve done whatever I’ve asked them to do. Is it perfect? No. But I tell you what: we’ve got a group in there that’s a great core and will look you right in the eyeballs and ... they’ll say ‘Yes sir, no sir, no ma’am, yes ma’am’ to you.”

— The Associated Press contributed to this story.

EAST CAROLINA 55, NORTH CAROLINA 31
East Carolina 14 14 14 13—55
North Carolina 0 10 14 7—31
First Quarter

ECU_Hardy 6 pass from Carden (Harvey kick), 11:28.

ECU_Ray 7 pass from Carden (Harvey kick), 3:06.

Second Quarter

NC_FG T.Moore 21, 14:17.

ECU_Carden 1 run (Harvey kick), 10:05.

NC_Thorpe 32 pass from Q.Davis (T.Moore kick), 6:33.

ECU_Carden 1 run (Harvey kick), 1:48.

Third Quarter

ECU_Hairston 3 run (Harvey kick), 11:38.

NC_Howard 3 pass from Renner (T.Moore kick), 9:36.

ECU_Carden 1 run (Harvey kick), 6:16.

NC_Platt 23 pass from Renner (T.Moore kick), 4:41.

Fourth Quarter

ECU_FG Harvey 32, 14:55.

NC_Q.Davis 56 pass from Renner (T.Moore kick), 13:52.

ECU_FG Harvey 29, 8:53.

ECU_Ray 48 pass from Carden (Harvey kick), 3:33.

A_60,000.

___

  ECU NC
First downs 36 26
Rushes-yards 54-227 32-67
Passing 376 398
Comp-Att-Int 32-47-1 29-47-1
Return Yards 7 41
Punts-Avg. 2-45.5 5-38.2
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 0-0
Penalties-Yards 3-34 9-94
Time of Possession 36:09 23:51

___

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING_East Carolina, Cooper 35-186, Carden 8-22, J.Williams 1-10,

B.Allen 1-5, Smyre 1-5, Hairston 4-5, Team 4-(minus 6). North Carolina,

Blue 20-68, Francis 4-10, Singleton 1-3, Renner 7-(minus 14).

PASSING_East Carolina, Carden 32-47-1-376. North Carolina,

Renner 28-46-1-366, Q.Davis 1-1-0-32.

RECEIVING_East Carolina, Cooper 8-70, Hardy 6-66, Ray 5-84,

D.Grayson 2-39, J.Williams 2-28, I.Jones 2-27, Webster 2-16,

Worthy 1-16, Pasut 1-11, B.Allen 1-8, Smyre 1-6, Bry.Williams 1-5.

North Carolina, Thorpe 6-70, Blue 6-56, Q.Davis 5-111, Ebron 4-63,

Switzer 2-28, Howard 2-26, Francis 2-13, Platt 1-23, M.McNeill 1-8.