Here we are again. Once again I thought I had a clue how this game would go, and I was completely wrong.
I watched East Carolina put up a valiant effort and then gradually fade down the stretch against a strong rushing offense for South Carolina. I then watched Virginia Tech's defense handle business against a very skilled (if undermanned) Ohio State team.
Suddenly a very intriguing matchup looked a little bit more like another week of saying "good effort, Pirates, you'll get them next time."
Then ECU got the ball first and Carden lofted a picture-perfect fade route down the near sideline to Jimmy Williams for a 35 yard completion, and there was a glimpse of an advantage for the Pirates.
Then Bryce Williams missed his block on the blitzing DB, only to snag the deflected pass and rumble 22 yards through traffic for a first and goal. So it was no surprise to see Williams then snag a twinkle-toes catch for a TD in the end zone for a 7-0 lead.
You don't get breaks like that in a game you're going to get dominated in, right? I thought ECU might just have a chance in this game, however slim it might be.
Then Carden threw another jump ball to the other side of the field on the next drive, and again it was complete (though again, over Hokie DB Brandon Facyson). All of a sudden, Carden was 6-for-9 for 131 yards and two touchdowns, East Carolina had a 14-0 lead, and the stadium was very quiet.
Meanwhile, the ECU defense was generating a substantial pass rush and knocking Michael Brewer flat on his backside repeatedly, while another strong offensive drive put East Carolina ahead 21-0. Then things started to change.
With about nine and a half minutes left in the first half, all hell broke loose. First, the Pirates went for it on fourth and two from the Hokie 11-yard line and a dropped pass gave the ball back to Virginia Tech. Three plays later an interception gave ECU the ball back first and ten at the Hokie 24 - no harm done.
Of course, since the chaos was not yet done, Carden then busted around the end for a sure touchdown run... and then got drilled and fumbled, Hokie ball on the one yard line. Michael Brewer then followed that up with a play two snaps later where he nearly rolled out of the back of the end zone and tossed another interception. ECU took the ball again - and then sputtered into a missed field goal.
So again, in the span of eleven plays, East Carolina intercepted Virginia Tech twice, advanced the ball inside the Virginia Tech 15 yard line twice, and had zero points to show for it. The game settled into a back-and-forth defensive battle, but East Carolina still had the ball and a 21-14 lead with 3:30 left to play. Again, the offense stalled, and suddenly they found themselves in a tie game when they took possession with 1:20 left to play.
Fortunately for the Pirates, Virginia Tech absolutely unraveled. First, the kickoff went out of bounds, giving ECU first and ten at their own 35. Then Carden hit Cam Worthy up the sideline on another 35-yard jump ball, followed by the Hokies getting flagged for 12 men on the field. Carden then found Worth yet again across the middle, and Worthy then muscled his way to the one-yard line. Not that it really mattered given the momentum, but VA Tech was then called for 12 men on the field again.
Carden took the ensuing snap, faked a dive up the middle and walked around the left side for a 28-21 Pirate lead. He wound up throwing for 427 yards and three touchdowns, including nine completions of 20+ yards, showing what he is capable given the right matchups and opportunities. Next week against North Carolina and the remainder of their schedule looks much more manageable all of a sudden.