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The Daily Tar Heel

Football: ECU rivalry revs up Heels

Defense wants to avenge 2007 loss

Many UNC players come from eastern N.C., adding to the ECU rivalry. DTH File/Andrew Dye
Many UNC players come from eastern N.C., adding to the ECU rivalry. DTH File/Andrew Dye

For UNC’s Deunta Williams, this one’s personal.

It’s not just about the third-year safety’s connections to the eastern part of North Carolina. His memory of 2007 has had him hankering for a second chance for two years.

“It’s more than a game,” the Jacksonville native said about Saturday’s contest between No. 24 North Carolina (2-0) and East Carolina (1-1).

“This is one of the games that me personally, I’ll remember for the rest of my life. They got us last time, and since then I’ve had that in the back of my mind when people ask me about it.”

That day, the Pirates squeaked by the Tar Heels 34-31 on a last-second field goal in front of a raucous crowd in Greenville.

ECU quarterback Patrick Pinkney torched UNC’s defense for three touchdowns and more than 400 yards through the air, dealing North Carolina its first loss under Butch Davis and sending the Tar Heels on their way to a 4-8 season.

The defeat also impacted a few other UNC defenders who were freshmen in that game.

Linebackers Quan Sturdivant and Bruce Carter also saw action against the Pirates, and Williams said both of them still haven’t forgotten the final score.

“It was our first loss as a unit, so it was kind of hard to express in words how that felt,” Williams said. “I think if we would’ve won that game, our season would have been a lot different.”

While most of ECU’s offensive playmakers from that year have departed, Davis said this year’s Pirates are still built in the typical mold of the program. That means they’ll have plenty of speed at the skill positions — running back, wide receiver and defensive back.

There is one constant that bridges the gap from 2007 to 2009 — sixth-year senior Pinkney.

But despite his wealth of experience, his final season has gotten off to a rocky start.

Pinkney has completed just 42 percent of his passes through two games, and he’s barely eclipsed 300 yards passing for the season.

Despite those numbers, Davis said UNC is preparing for him to be at his best.

“You’re not going to disguise him, you’re not going to bluff him, you’re not going to trip him,” Davis said. “He’s going to have seen just about everything from an experience standpoint.”

Of course, UNC’s defense isn’t the only one with unfinished business on its mind. Quarterback T.J. Yates, who hails from Georgia, said he’s learned just how much the rivalry means in his time with his teammates.

Yates said that when Davis asked everyone who knew an ECU player to raise their hands, 75 percent of the room shot their hands up.

To redeem itself, UNC’s offense will need a better effort than last week against the Pirates’ veteran front seven. UNC could only muster 35 rushing yards and surrendered six sacks against UConn.

“Their defensive line and their linebackers are the strength of their defense,” Yates said. “They’re always moving around.”

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