10/01/12 — Cooper has coming out party for East Carolina

View Archive

Cooper has coming out party for East Carolina

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on October 1, 2012 1:49 PM

GREENVILLE -- Keeping their stable of running backs healthy has been a concern among Conference USA football coaches this season.

East Carolina is no exception.

The Pirates lost Reggie Bullock on the game's first play, but Vintavious Cooper compensated for his injured teammate. The JUCO transfer posted ECU career highs for carries (23) and rushing yards (154) in the Pirates' 28-18 rain-soaked victory over UTEP at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Saturday evening.

Cooper finished with 203 all-purpose yards.

"A big game for us, a conference game, but we pushed through," a soaked Cooper said. "The offensive line played an incredible game, opening up lanes for the running backs. In film study, we made sure we read our keys and had our protection down pat come Saturday.

"I don't think we could have played a better game."

Bullock returned the game's opening kickoff and took a hard shot from UTEP freshman Felix Neboh. A senior from Las Vegas, Bullock was stunned on the play and did not return due to concussion-like symptoms.

Cooper absorbed punishing tackles throughout the rain-delayed game, and was stopped just once behind the line of scrimmage. His 24-yard touchdown run, after Chip Thompson intercepted UTEP for the second time, gave the Pirates a comfortable 28-10 cushion with 41/2 minutes remaining in regulation.

"Tay Cooper did a great job of running the football for us," ECU head coach Ruffin McNeill said. "We were pretty balanced tonight with 39 rushes, 40 throws. That was good. We'll continue to get better with skill people, which is our goal."

Each team committed four turnovers the contest, which was halted midway through the second quarter due to inclement weather. The Pirates had the ball second-and-goal on the Miners' 6-yard line.

An 80-minute delay followed and when the game resumed, ECU quarterback Shane Carden threw the first of three interceptions on the first play. Carden wound up 28 of 40 for 258 yards with one touchdown.

Carden also rushed for a first-quarter touchdown for East Carolina, which improved to 14-2 in CUSA home games since 2007.

"I'm really proud of all of our guys," McNeill said. "We talked about playing on all three sides of the ball. There were some positive things, there some negative things, but it was a win.

"And it was a big win -- a conference win. All wins are hard and that was a test of the team. UTEP played tough competition and we know we took our best shot."