upperclassmen heard their former head coach mutter the ‘must-win’
slogan, it was to keep his job. A half decade later, the coaching
cliché actually has some lasting implications.
Win, celebrate and wait. Lose, sweat and wait.
With two games remaining, the Pirates are a win away from a berth in
the conference’s second championship game. A road win at Rice locks ECU
into an improbable one-year reign as the Conference USA East Division
champion, securing a slot in a Dec. 1 national television broadcast
with a to-be-determined opponent.
A hiccup interrupts the Pirates’ plan. It erases the easy feeling
associated with winning, namely a potential five-game winning streak.
It abruptly flips the conference race, forcing Pirate fans from
first-class to that uncomfortable middle seat between two burley women.
Southern Miss, who the Pirates downed 20-17 in overtime thanks to
Travis Williams’ game-ending interception, has to lose one of their
final two games for ECU to clinch the championship berth. USM hosts
winnable games against UAB and Marshall to conclude their season.
Ironically, ECU’s season hinges not against their geographical and
hated rival, but instead versus an academically oriented private school
in Texas with a first-year head coach and the nation’s youngest
offensive coordinator. Penciling in wins before the season started and
Rice seemed like a sure bet. Now the Owls have to power to ruin the
Pirates’ surprising upstart.
“We’ve got to come out and win this one,” said Mark Robinson, a junior
defensive tackle. “If we don’t win this one, there’s a lot of things
we’re putting at jeopardy. So this one we must win more than anything.”
In one game, the players have their season, some their careers,
literally on the line. As the season’s outcome hangs in the balance,
big plays and big mistakes become amplified.
“What’s at stake in this game is huge,” said Steve Shankweiler, ECU’s
offensive coordinator. “This is the biggest game the school’s recent
In the school’s 74-year history, ECU has never been featured in a
conference championship tilt. Few border wars, instate rivalries or
bowl games in rival this game’s impact. “You play football to
reach certain goals and those goals we have set in place are right
there in their hands,” Shankweiler reiterated.
Fulfilling the program’s preseason and long-term goals stay in line
with the team’s adopted mantra to stay ‘humble and hungry.’
“The way to succeed is to stay focused on controlling what we can
control,” Holtz said after practice Tuesday. “And right now, we’ve been
humble up to this point. Let’s not pat ourselves on the back about six
Remembering what gap to fill and what route to run becomes imperative
toward a welcoming crowd at the Kinston airport. Losing focus and that
enthusiasm that has rebounded their season could have a detrimental
“We ought to be as hungry to go get this game as we were game one. And
then let’s just focus on what we have to do to make sure we focus on
this game to give ourselves the best chance to prepare to go in.”
ECU won a ‘statement game’ on the road at USM, but admittedly came out
flat in front of a home crowd versus Tulsa, last season’s conference
champion. After such an emotional win over Marshall at home to
culminate Senior Day, Rice has the makings of a trap game.
“In November, when you’re playing still competitive football, it will
come down to your focus,” said Greg Hudson, ECU’s defensive
coordinator. “That has made our players focus on the task at hand and
staying 1-0… If you focus on the little details, you don’t have to
worry about the big picture.”
With a loss, ECU the big picture becomes a Hattiesburg-based television
set. With a win, the big picture becomes crystal clear.