Justin Hardy

East Carolina announces promotion of four assistants

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Following the departure of Lincoln Riley to Oklahoma, Pirate captain Ruffin McNeill will keep the ship headed in the same direction. East Carolina announced the promotion of outside receivers coach Dave Nichol to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

“Dave is an outstanding offensive strategist, football coach and tireless recruiter who I have known since my days at Texas Tech,” McNeill said in a statement. “Over time, Dave has earned my trust and I have faith in his ability to run an exciting, fast-paced and aggressive offense that the Pirate Nation and our players will love. More importantly, I trust Dave’s ability to get the most out of our players, both on and off the field.”

East Carolina ranked third nationally in passing at a shade under 372 yards per game to go with 31 touchdowns in an 8-5 season, the fifth under McNeill. Justin Hardy ranked among the nation’s leaders with 121 grabs for 1,494 yards with 10 touchdowns, and Isaiah Jones added 81 receptions for 830 yards and five scores.

Together with inside receivers coach Donnie Kirkpatrick, the pair was nominated for FootballScoop‘s Wide Receivers Coach of the Year award last month. Kirkpatrick was promoted to assistant head coach on Thursday.

Additionally, offensive line coach Brandon Jones was promoted to run game coordinator and former graduate assistant Garrett Riley will fill Nichol’s roll as outside receivers coach.

“We are blessed to have one of the best staffs in college football and have worked tremendously hard to groom our coaches for the next step,” McNeill said. “These moves will aid us in scheme continuity, coaching language and recruiting cohesiveness. Our top priority is to maintain the level of offensive production and success, and to have teaching consistency during this transition is a critical part of the process.”

Gators push SEC East to 5-0 with Birmingham Bowl win

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The SEC Least as they were referred to during the regular season?  Try SEC Beast.

Much maligned throughout 2014 — and rightly so — The Lil’ Division That Couldn’t suddenly could in the postseason, with Florida’s 28-20 win over East Carolina (8-5) in the Birmingham Bowl Saturday afternoon putting a bow on a perfect bowl season.  Five teams played — UF, South Carolina, Georgia, Missouri, Tennessee — and all five won, giving the East a perfect 5-0 mark during the 2014-15 postseason.

Now, granted, just two of the East’s games — UGA vs. No. 21 Louisville, Mizzou vs. No. 25 Minnesota —  came against ranked teams, but that division is the only reason the SEC as a whole has an above-.500 bowl mark as the West went 2-5.  Included in that West record was five consecutive losses to close out the slate by the five best teams in the division: LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Auburn and Alabama.  Four of those five losses, though, were to ranked teams, the lone exception being unranked Notre Dame toppling LSU in the Music City Bowl.

UF (7-5), meanwhile, helped cap that perfect East bowl cycle despite being outgained by ECU 536-340.  Fortunately for the Gators they were able to make plays in the running game as they ran for 169 yards in the win.

The defense, while not helping out yard-wise, did contribute points as Brian Poole ran an interception back for a touchdown in the first half, not to mention Dante Fowler‘s three sacks in his last game in a Gator uniform.  They also forced a fumble on a play that began at the one-yard line late in the second quarter that kept the Pirates from another touchdown, as well as force another turnover late to essentially close out the game.

Offensively, Ahmad Fullwood‘s 86-yard touchdown reception from Treon Harris with 11:20 left in the third quarter was the longest scoring pass play in the history of the Birmingham/BBVA Compass/Papa John’s Bowl.  Harris left the game after that because of injury and, replaced by the soon-to-be-departed Jeff Driskel, the UF offense ground to a halt.

On the next six possessions, the Gators had a pair of fumbles that sandwiched four three-and-outs.  That allowed the Pirates to cut a deficit that was 28-14 after the long TD pass to 28-20 with 6:29 remaining.  On the possession after the second fumble, ECU managed to drive the ball to the UF 27-yard line before being forced to punt the ball back to the Gators with 4:21 remaining.

Yet another Gator three-and-out gave the Pirates the ball back with 3:28 left at their own 42-yard line.  After the Pirates drove down to the UF five-yard line — with the aid of a very fortuitous fumble that was kneed forward at least 10 yards by a Gator defender — Vernon Hargreaves intercepted a pass in the end zone with 1:20 remaining to nearly seal the win.

On the third play of the following series, a Driskel run for a first down did seal the win for the Gators.

For the Pirates, Shane Carden finished with 427 yards passing, two touchdowns and two interceptions.  Justin Hardy, the FBS all-time leader in career receptions, closed out his record-breaking career with 11 receptions for 160 yards.

For ECU’s conference the AAC, that league will finish the postseason 2-3.

Gators grab 21-7 halftime lead on Pirates in Birmingham Bowl

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In the second-to-last non-playoff bowl game remaining, it’s a Power Five team getting the best of a Group of Five squad.

After two quarters of play, Florida overcame a sluggish start to grab a 21-7 halftime lead on East Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl.  This is just the second meeting between the two programs, with the first coming in 1983.

And while UF grabbed what for the moment is a comfortable lead, it was ECU that actually took an early 7-0 on a Justin Hardy touchdown reception, after which the all-time FBS leader in career receptions busted out the Gator Chomp.  After that, though, it was all Gators.

Appropriately enough, a defensive touchdown — a Brian Poole pick-six — opened the scoring for UF late in the first quarter.

Adam Lane, a 5-7, 222-pound redshirt freshman who could very well double as a beer keg in the offseason, led the Gators with 68 yards rushing on just four carries; entering this game, Lane had rushed for 72 yards the entire 2014 season.  Lane scored the first offensive touchdown for the Gators, a two-yard run early in the second quarter that gave UF its first lead of the game.

(Writer’s note: no, I don’t know if Lane “had an accident in his pants,”)

A Treon Harris 16-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Powell eight minutes later capped the Gators’ 21-0 run.

One of the few lowpoints for UF was a rather horrific one as Antonio Morrison, the team’s leading tackler, went down with what appeared to be a significant leg injury.  During the telecast, you could actually, very clearly, hear Morrison screaming out in pain, a disturbing sound that most could likely do without hearing.

Morrison was subsequently taken off the field on a cart for further evaluation by the football program’s medical personnel.

The Gators were outgained 282-161 in total offense, but only allowed the seven points.

ECU’s Shane Carden, the nation’s No. 2 passer in yards, passed for 203 in the first two quarters.  He also had a touchdown and interception, one of two Pirate turnovers.  The second one, a fumble by Kurt Benkert, came at the UF one-yard line late in the half as ECU was looking to cut the score to 21-14.

The Pirates did have a chance to cut the lead to 21-10 on the drive after that, but missed wide-right on a 42-yard field goal attempt with :42 remaining.

East Carolina WR Justin Hardy wins Burlsworth Trophy as nation’s top former walk-on

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East Carolina wide receiver Justin Hardy was famously – and ridiculously – left off the Biletnikoff Award semifinalist list back in November, but he took home a nice consolation prize on Monday. Hardy was named the winner of the Burlsworth Trophy as the nation’s top former walk-on.

He received the honor at a ceremony in Springdale, Ark., on Monday night. The ECU play-maker beat out Mississippi State offensive lineman Ben Beckwith and Iowa running back Mark Weisman.

Last month Hardy surpassed Oklahoma’s Ryan Broyles as FBS’s all-time leader in receptions.

Hardy leads the nation in receptions per game (9.17), ranks sixth in receiving yards per game (111.2) and places 20th with nine touchdown grabs.

Hardy is the fifth Burlsworth Trophy winner, joining Sean Benford (Georgia Tech, 2010), Austin Davis (Southern Miss, 2011), Matt McGloin (Penn State, 2012) and Jared Abbrederis (Wisconsin, 2013).

The trophy is named in honor of former Arkansas walk-on Brandon Burlsworth, who earned All-America honors in 1998 was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in 1999 but slain in a car accident before his NFL career began.

Hardy will conclude his collegiate career in the Birmingham Bowl against Florida on Jan. 3.

UCF needs a miracle to claim a share of American Athletic Conference title

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UCF head coach George O’Leary will likely be humming an old Mike & The Mechanics tune on his trip back to Orlando.

All UCF needed was a miracle to claim a share of the American Athletic Conference title. Wide receiver Breshad Perriman answered the Knights’ prayers with a 51-yard touchdown catch as time expired to give the UCF a 32-30 victory over the East Carolina Pirates.

Horrible late-game play-calling cost the Pirates their ninth win of the season. With 1:47 remaining at UCF’s 15-yard line, the Pirates called four straight plays that resulted in negative yardage.

The Knights took over at their 35-yard line with 10 seconds remaining. Quarterback Justin Holman immediately connected with receiver Josh Reese for a 15-yard completion, which resulted in a first down and a momentary stoppage in play. Then Holman hurled a prayer into the air with Perriman getting behind a pair of East Carolina defensive backs to score the improbable game-winning touchdown.

The talented junior was outstanding and finished the contest with four receptions for 139 yards.

Perriman was topped by college football’s all-time leading receiver, though. East Carolina’s Justin Hardy made 12 catches for 140 yards and a touchdown.

East Carolina moved the ball, particularly in the second half, and posted another 400-yard game on offense. The Pirates gained over 400 yards in every game this season.

Senior quarterback Shane Carden was 36-of-48 passing for 397 yards, three touchdowns and a pair of interceptions in his last game Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

Holman was steller, too. UCF’s signal caller completed 67 percent of his passes for 274 yards and one unforgettable touchdown toss.

With the win, UCF will share this year’s American Atheltic Conference championship with the Memphis Tigers. It doesn’t matter how it happened; the Knights can celebrate after their second-straight conference title: