ECU rolls past Appalachian State
By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on September 1, 2012 11:08 PM
GREENVILLE -- There were plenty of questions surrounding Rio Johnson prior to his first start at quarterback in an East Carolina uniform.
Johnson answered a lot of those questions on Saturday afternoon.
The junior from Atlanta overcame an early interception, threw for two touchdowns and rushed for another in a season-opening, 35-13 win over Appalachian State at Bagwell Field inside Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. He finished 28 of 43 for 242 yards.
"I felt like I was confident the entire time I was out there" Johnson said. "I didn't get too high or get too low. That is what a quarterback is supposed to do. I definitely wanted to get that first win out of the way and I feel good about that."
East Carolina's first drive ended when Johnson was intercepted by Appalachian State's Troy Sanders. The Mountaineers converted the turnover into seven points on quarterback Jamal Jackson's four-yard touchdown run.
The Pirates moved the ball on offense during the opening quarter but failed to finish drives and convert on key third downs. ECU was held scoreless in the first quarter of a home opener since 2006 versus Memphis.
Chip Thompson recovered Jackson's fumble near midfield early in the second quarter and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown to give the Pirates a 7-7 tie.
Justin Hardy's 43-yard punt return set up Johnson's 11-yard TD pass to Andrew Bodenheimer that put the Pirates in front 14-7 with 7:59 left in the first half.
Stewart's 26-yard field goal in the closing seconds of the first half pulled the Mountaineers to within 14-10.
ECU led at halftime despite being outgained 263-144 in the first half. Johnson was 13 for 23 through the air for 71 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
The Pirates squandered an opportunity to extend their lead midway through the third quarter as Warren Harvey's 35-yard field goal was no good. Stewart, however, converted a 41-yard field goal to close the gap to 14-13 after Appalachian State recovered an ECU fumble near midfield.
East Carolina answered immediately with Lance Ray's 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown as the lead grew to 21-13 late in the third quarter.
"I thought the special teams made some game-changing plays which is what we wanted to do," Pirates' head coach Ruffin McNeil said. "Lance came to the sideline and said, 'that's what you brought me here to do.'"
Following an Appalachian State punt, the Pirates marched 59 yards in seven plays. Johnson's 4-yard touchdown pass to Justin Hardy extended the lead 28-13 early in the fourth quarter.
Lamar Ivey's interception ended the Mountaineer's ensuing possession. The ECU defense forced three turnovers and held Appalachian State to just four third-down conversions on 15 attempts.
"Defensively, I thought we did some positive things," McNeil said. "They hit a long play here or there. They really did a good job of stepping up and keeping them out of the end zone for the most part."
Johnson tacked on a 6-yard rushing touchdown midway through the second half as the lead swelled to 35-13.
The Pirates finished 9 of 16 on third-down plays and converted three of four red zone trips into points.
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