GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) - East Carolina coach Skip Holtz watched
other teams around the country, envious that their defenses were
scoring points, and wondered if his Pirates would ever do that.
They finally did - and just when they needed them most.
East Carolina returned two fourth-quarter interceptions for
touchdowns in its 35-20 victory over Memphis on Saturday night.
"I said, 'I'm tired of watching everybody else score on
defense. I've been waiting 13 weeks, 11 games last year and two
games this year, and we hadn't even gotten close to scoring on
defense yet,"' Holtz said he told his team. "It's about time
somebody picks up a fumble, makes a play or puts the ball in the
Zach Slate and Kasey Ross got the message.
Slate, a backup defensive end, returned an interception seven
yards for the go-ahead touchdown. It was the Pirates' first
touchdown on an interception since 2003.
Then Ross, a defensive back, brought back another interception
77 yards for another TD in the final minutes for East Carolina
(1-2, 1-1 Conference USA).
"I was laughing the whole time, just so happy to be a part of
how great the defense played," Slate said.
Chris Johnson rushed for 106 yards and two touchdowns to help
the Pirates rally from a 13-point second-half deficit by scoring
the final 28 points and snapping a three-game losing streak against
Martin Hankins threw three touchdown passes in the first half
for Memphis (1-2, 0-1), but it was the third of his five
interceptions that put the Tigers behind for good.
"They helped us in the first half, and then we helped them in
the second half, and in the end we helped them more than they
helped us," Memphis coach Tommy West said.
Slate deflected Hankins' pass to the right sideline, then
grabbed it out of the air and lumbered into the end zone to put
East Carolina ahead 21-20.
"Not in a million years did I ever think I'd be in the end
zone," Slate said.
Linebacker Pierre Parker thwarted the Tigers' ensuing possession
by intercepting Hankins with about five minutes to play. James
Pinkney threw a 33-yard touchdown pass to Aundrae Allison with 3:34
remaining to extend the lead.
Finally, in the closing minutes, Ross picked off a pass, zipping
and zagging across the field and into the end zone to provide the
"Just didn't want to get tackled," Ross said, laughing.
Memphis looked to be in control at halftime. The Tigers gained
311 total yards in the first half and led 20-7 before the Pirates'
defense regrouped and Johnson asserted himself.
"I didn't say anything magical" at halftime, Holtz said. "I
Johnson had 65 yards in the second half, and his 5-yard
touchdown run midway through the third quarter pulled East Carolina
to within 20-14. Earlier, his 6-yard scoring run pulled the Pirates
Pinkney finished 18-of-26 passing for 236 yards, and surpassed
the 6,000-yard passing mark for his career. His favorite target,
Allison, had nine catches for 124 yards and a touchdown a week
after UAB held him without a catch.
"I just had the mind-set this week that I was going to practice
hard, try to bounce back from a zero-catch game," Allison said.
Hankins was 24-of-45 passing for 265 yards with three scores in
the first half, but was just 9-of-24 for 56 yards and four
interceptions after halftime.
"We put the ball in places where it's not supposed to go,"
Earnest Williams had a 19-yard touchdown reception, Duke Calhoun
had a 23-yard scoring catch and Antonio McCoy had a 3-yard TD
reception in the first half.