11/30/08 — CUSA East champion East Carolina thrashes Miners

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CUSA East champion East Carolina thrashes Miners

By Ryan Hanchett
Published in Sports on November 30, 2008 2:00 AM

GREENVILLE -- Brandon Simmons saved his best for last.

On senior day, Simmons racked up a collegiate-best 115 yards and scored four touchdowns as East Carolina pummeled UTEP 53-21 at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Friday afternoon.

"We wanted to put the game in the hands of our power back and our offensive line," said ECU head coach Skip Holtz. "It was important for our guys to send this group of seniors out with a win."

After a UTEP touchdown with 51 seconds remaining in the game and the Pirates comfortably ahead 46-21, Alex Taylor returned an onsides kick attempt by the Miners 43 yard for a touchdown.

It was a fitting end to an embarrassing day for the Miners, who finished 5-7 and failed to become bowl eligible. But the outcome was a foregone conclusion before Taylor's score.

"I couldn't be prouder of my guys for what they accomplished today," said Holtz. "People said that there was nothing to play for, as far as the standings, but don't tell this group of guys that there was nothing to play for."

The first half was all Pirates as East Carolina jumped out to a 30-7 advantage. Simmons opened the scoring with a 12-yard touchdown run at the 4:16 mark of the first quarter.

The senior from Newton Grove found the end zone for a second time on a 6-yard scamper midway through the second quarter. He added a 9-yard touchdown reception in the final minute before halftime.

"I don't know if it was a complete game, but it was definitely a complete half," said Holtz. "I thought we had it going in the first half against West Virginia ... the second half against Memphis, and again today early."

East Carolina racked-up 282 yards in the opening 30 minutes and successfully converted seven of nine third-down attempts. Miners quarterback Trevor Vittatoe helped the Pirates' cause by throwing two interceptions in ECU territory that eventually led to East Carolina touchdowns.

For the game, Vittatoe eclipsed the 300-yard mark and fired two touchdown passes but never pulled his team within two scores. Patrick Pinkney led the East Carolina attack with 228 yards and two touchdowns on 17 completions.

The Pirates gained 475 total yards.

Having already earned a birth in the Conference USA championship game next week, the CUSA East Division champion Pirates (8-4, 6-2) simply strengthened their bowl position with the victory.

"I think we gained some confidence in this win," said wide receiver Darryl Freeney. "We are really excited, no matter who we play, to have an opportunity to play for a championship."