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Summers: No more ghost games for Pirates


By Nathan Summers
The Daily Reflector

Monday, November 7, 2016

TULSA, Okla. — East Carolina played the part of ghost again on Saturday in Oklahoma.

Disappearing into the night on offense in the second quarter when an eventual 45-24 loss to Tulsa was still up for grabs, the all-white-clad East Carolina football team found itself grasping at the air too often on defense to make up for it in another failed chase that could have sealed the Pirates' bowl fate.

Needing by far their best road performance of the season to have a chance against the high-scoring hosts in front of a scattered 17,500 fans in Chapman Stadium, ECU's defenders seemed transparent at times when being run through by the Golden Hurricane tandem of James Flanders and D'Angelo Brewer, both of whom flirted with 200-yard rushing days, running for a combined 361 and staging a horror show of flailing white figures around them.

If the Pirates' season is not headed for the boneyard, or already there, they will need an inspired late-season comeback that is more impressive than most of their in-game rallies have been this season. If they can't find a way to win three games in succession for the first time in two seasons – it would require wins against SMU this week and then a pair of AAC division co-leaders in Navy and Temple – there will be no postseason for the Pirates.

It seemed ECU, now 3-6, had regained its footing last week against fellow American Athletic Conference hard-luck case Connecticut, but Tulsa was a much different animal, a beast at times.

On their way to running their record to 0-5 when donning their all-white game costume, the Pirates pushed a much more valid and dangerous trend by assisting in their own undoing.

They fell behind. They made mistakes. They tried to fight back. They fell short.

A storm of ECU penalties made sure all the missed tackles and the temporary offensive hiatus against the Hurricane stuck. They only helped fuel Tulsa's gruesome rushing twosome and a big night for TU receiver Josh Atkinson. With those forces at play, TU built an insurmountable score and a wire-to-wire win for a Golden Hurricane team defying the odds by vying for sole possession of first place in the AAC West with Navy.

While the season-long pattern of self-inflicted wounds for ECU has largely been founded in turnovers, poor red zone play and big plays allowed on defense, this time it was a mass of penalties. The Pirates at times gave a whistle-happy officiating crew (they tossed 10 flags at Tulsa and 11 at ECU) plenty of ammunition.

There are always people who claim they could do a better job than the refs – not a tremendous stretch on Saturday night – and all of them would have thrown flags on ECU's trio of pass interference calls in the first half. A proclivity for overplaying the body of opposing receivers and without seemingly giving much thought to where the ball is made the infractions obvious.

But no matter how touchy some of the calls might have been on the field of play, an ECU assistant coach cost his team yet another 15 yards for a sideline tirade, perhaps the most unnecessary of any of the transgressions.

For seniors like wide receiver Zay Jones, who quietly rolled up another career night with more than 200 yards and became the ECU and AAC all-time leader in catches, it must be maddening. He and his band of classmates who are trying to leave a positive legacy behind are running out of time.

There are no more mistakes left to make and no more ghost games to give in order to avoid a second consecutive losing season.

While many outside the team are writing the season off entirely, the men in the over-hyped, albeit unlucky white uniforms will do anything to extend it.

If they win out, the Pirates most certainly will have earned not only a bowl trip but very likely some national recognition as one of the best 6-6 teams in the country to finish the season.

Perhaps that description of the possibilities best spells out just how tall those odds are.

Contact Nathan Summers at nsummers@reflector.com, 252-329-9595 or follow @NateSumm99 on Twitter.