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GREENVILLE, N.C. - East Carolina jumped out early and then had little difficulty in handling winless Southern Miss 55-14 on Military Appreciation Day in Dowdy Ficklen Stadium Saturday afternoon.
On an overcast day in Greenville, the Pirates were all business scoring seven touchdowns and running up 476 yards of total offense. But the big story was ECU's stifling defense that limited Southern Miss to just 137 total yards and only 47 snaps.
There was nowhere to run or hide for the Golden Eagles in what could be their last appearance in Greenville. It has been an historic series that dates back to 1951, that really got cranked up in the 1960's.
ECU quarterback Shane Carden was stellar, going 30 of 37 through the air for 308 yards and three touchdown passes in just three quarters of work. Carden also ran for another score in the victory. Vintavious Cooper ran for 65 yards on 14 carries with one touchdown. Justin Hardy caught 10 passes for 126 yards and a touchdown. Breon Allen came on in the second half to run for another 45 yards for the Pirates.
"I was proud of our team. We just had a really good three game road stretch and the kids have practiced well all year. We've had a lot of good experiences to fall back on as a team. This team does a good job of having a coach me mentality. We knew we had to come out ready to go," said ECU head coach Ruffin McNeill, "I'm proud of our preparation. The kids did a good job of executing. They brought their work to the field. We did a really good job of getting stops. We did a good job of controlling the run and affecting the quarterback."
ECU went 11 for 14 on third down which proved to be big early in the game in getting out ahead and staying there. Southern Miss only converted on 3 of 12 on third down. Ten different Pirates caught a pass on Saturday.
East Carolina(5-2/3-1) scored twice in the first quarter and three times in the second to take a 31-0 lead into the locker room.
Shane Carden found Justin Hardy for a one yard touchdown to open the scoring. Carden then hit Isaiah Jones for an 11 yard strike for a 14-0 lead.
Vintavious Cooper's 21-yard scamper made it 21-0 before Carden scored again on a one yard rush to open up a four touchdown cushion before Warren Harvey connected on a 27-yard field goal with 1:53 to go in the first half to take a 31-0 score into intermission.
Carden went 26 of 33 for 282 yards in the first half. Vintavious Cooper ran for 54 yards on 14 carries in the first two quarters while Justin Hardy caught 10 passes for 126 yards in the first half with a touchdown for ECU. Nick Mullens and Allen Bridgeford combined for 3 for 11 passing for just 38 net yards in the first half.
The Pirates limited Southern Miss(0-6/0-2) to only 99 total yards in the first half with 66 of those coming on the ground. ECU rolled up 308 yards in the first two periods and had the football for 22 minutes of the first half to just eight for the Golden Eagles who have lost their last 18 straight contests.
After a 65 yard punt return to the USM five yard line by Justin Hardy, Carden connected again on first and goal, this time to Bryce Williams who was wide open in the back of the endzone for a 38-0 lead at the 12:15 mark in the third quarter.
Southern Miss was unable to sustain a drive, so on the next possession the Pirates took it right down the field and scored again on a one-yard Breon Allen touchdown for a 45-0 lead with 8:50 in the third quarter.
Cody Keith got into the act when he came on in relief of Carden and connected with wide receiver Cam Worthy to the five yard line. Chris Hairston took a handoff around the right end for a touchdown from there to push the Pirate lead to 52-0.
After a Maurice Falls fumble recovery, ECU advanced the football to the fifteen yard line. Southern Miss was called for pass interferrence on an ECU pass attempt from Keith to Cam Worthy. After a pair of Golden Eagle stops at the one yard line, Warren Harvey came on to kick an 18-yard field goal for a 55-0 lead after three quarters of play.
Southern Miss finally got on the scoreboard when quarterback Nick Mullins found Marquise Ricard for a 15-yard touchdown strike with 12:08 left in the game. Corey Acosta's PAT made it 55-7.
The Golden Eagles scored again with 2:18 remaining in the game on a Nick Mullens
8-yard pass to Bruce Johnson to make it 55-14.
Nick Mullins ended up going 9 for 17 for 97 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Tyre Bracken led the Golden Eagle rushing attack with 44 yards on seven carries.
Brandon Williams led the Pirates with seven tackles. Michael Dobson recorded six while Terrick Wright had 15 stops for Southern Miss in a losing cause.
Catch PI-TV Postgame here on PirateIllustrated.com presented by Ironwood Golf & Country Club and InnerBanks Wealth Management. Coach Ruff breaks down Saturday's win along with quarterback Shane Carden, running back Vintavious Cooper and inside receiver Justin Hardy.