[Editor's note: While new purple jerseys played an important role in Clemson's victory over N.C. State (page 28), purple garb was worn by three other teams we find ourselves writing about this week—East Carolina, Holy Cross and Northwestern. We did not plan this. Promise.]
Nobody Is Finer in Carolina
The week before No. 23 Pittsburgh visited No. 20 East Carolina for the first game between nationally ranked teams ever played in Greenville, N.C, the Pirates worked extensively on a two-point conversion play. The reason: Offensive coordinator Steve Logan had a funny feeling—"One of those d�j� vu deals," he called it—that it would be needed. Even at halftime, when East Carolina led 13-6, Logan's final words to quarterback Jeff Blake were, "Son, it's going to come down to that two-point conversion."
Sure enough, with 46 seconds left and a school-record crowd (estimated at 36,000) having a collective nervous breakdown, Blake finished a gritty 80-yard drive by diving over left tackle for the TD that pulled East Carolina to within one point, 23-22, of the Panthers, who had rallied to take the lead on the passing of quarterback Alex Van Pelt. On the Pirates' two-point conversion try, Blake ran the option, cutting back over right tackle for the deuce that provided the winning margin in a 24-23 victory. "This team has it in its heart that it can't be beat," said Blake, who had completed a crucial 22-yard pass on third-and-17 deep in his own territory to spark the drive.
The Panthers weren't done yet, however. Van Pelt quickly moved them to the East Carolina 30 with seven seconds left. But instead of having kicker Don Silvestri try a 47-yard field goal, Van Pelt then passed to Chad Askew at the Pirate 11, where he was tackled as time expired. Should Pitt have gone for the field goal? "I thought we needed five more yards or so," said coach Paul Hackett, aware that Silvestri's longest field goal of the season was 37 yards.
The win, which moved East Carolina to 7-1, was witnessed by scouts from the Blockbuster, Peach, Independence and John Hancock bowls. The Pirates will probably go to one of those rather than to a major bowl, even if they wind up 10-1. The reason, of course, is that East Carolina is a tradition-poor independent, one of those programs that fall through the bowl system's cracks. No matter how good the Pirates are—and wins over Pitt and Syracuse suggest they might be Top 10 material—they're destined to be regarded as a curiosity by the polls and the bowls.
Oh, well. For a program that has been to only six bowls, none of them major, in its 55-year history, any postseason game is important. Besides, East Carolina can now also claim to be the best team in its state, which is rather nice considering that only Duke has agreed to play the Pirates—next year in Durham. Talks to set up a series with N.C. State recently broke off, and Wake Forest and North Carolina won't even discuss the matter.
A Cross to Bear
In his six years at Holy Cross, coach Mark Duffner has built what may be the nation's best Division I-AA program. His record after Saturday's thrilling 43-42 Patriot League win over Lehigh is 56-5-1, and four of the losses were to Division I-A teams. What's intriguing is that he has achieved this success without the most important motivational tool that any I-AA coach has—a berth in the division's national championship playoffs.
The Patriot League doesn't allow its champion to participate in the postseason, ostensibly because the extra games—four for the two finalists—would require players to spend too much time away from class. "It's something that's been around here as long as I have," says Duffner philosophically. "So we don't even think about it."