Jones' leaping touchdown catch lifts Pirates
By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on September 6, 2010 1:47 PM
GREENVILLE -- Ruffin McNeill promised to bring an exciting, shootout-style offense to East Carolina.
Boy, he wasn't kidding.
And luckily for the Pirates, Dominique Davis had one bullet left to turn a certain season-opening loss to Conference USA juggernaut Tulsa into an ESPN Instant Classic for years to come.
Six-foot-8 Justin Jones leapt into the air and hauled in a 33-yard touchdown pass as time expired, which propelled ECU to an improbable 51-49, come-from-behind victory at newly-expanded Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Jones' reception capped an 82-second drive that covered 66 yards, and made McNeill a winner in his debut as Pirate head coach.
"I've been doing this for 24 years and that's never happened to me," said Tulsa head coach Todd Graham of the game-ending play. "We usually have a play we execute to pressure on the quarterback so he can't make that throw. We called the play and didn't execute. That's our fault.
"They made the play and we didn't."
The defense-optional Conference USA affair had 12 lead changes, and the two teams combined for 1,117 yards of total offense before the second-largest crowd (50,010 fans) in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium history.
Davis completed 27 of 46 passes for 383 yards and five touchdowns, including two each to Lance Lewis and preseason All-CUSA selection Dwayne Harris. The duo combined to catch 13 passes for 226 yards.
Harris emerged the Pirates' all-time career reception yardage leader with 1,999 yards -- 17 more than former record holder Troy Smith, who played for ECU from 1995-98.
Golden Hurricane quarterback G.J. Kinne threw for 399 yards and five touchdown passes. His fifth scoring strike, a 3-yard toss to Charles Clay with 1:22 left in the fourth quarter, appeared to sink the Pirates.
"We knew the situation and the clock (on the last drive of the game)," said McNeill. "The thought process was to just drive it 70 yards and score. We felt like we had enough time with one timeout left. I was happy with the offense because that's the way we practice those situations."
Milking the clock for every precious second, Davis orchestrated the decisive nine-play drive. A Boston College transfer, Davis completed passes to Lewis and Harris, but also misfired on five other attempts.
Davis' last incompletion set up a fourth-and-10 at the Tulsa 33. He took the snap, stayed in the pocket and lobbed the ball into the air. Jones snagged the pass and tucked it into his chest as he hit the turf.
Officials reviewed the play, confirmed the call and mayhem ensued.
"We absolutely gave the game away," said Graham.
East Carolina extended its CUSA home win streak to eight games and beat Tulsa in Greenville for the first time since Nov. 11, 1995. The Pirates won their third consecutive season-opening game, the longest streak in program history since winning four in a row from 1987-1990.
"I like to win and I appreciate that," said McNeill. "I like the way the kids kept fighting and never gave up."