Veteran C-USA staffers Russell Anderson and Erika Amstadt-Hirschfield will provide insight and information from Greenville to the league's official website.
December 5, 2009
Posted at 5:57 p.m. ET
Parting Thoughts from RDA
The 2009 Conference USA Football Championship Game is in the books and for the first time, C-USA has crowned a back-to-back champion. For the second year in a row, East Carolina has faced the nation's top-ranked offense and defeated them. The Pirates followed up last year's win over Tulsa with a thrilling 38-32 victory over Houston today.
Now, Skip Holtz and his buccos will move on to Memphis for the AutoZone Liberty Bowl to face an opponent from the SEC. While that foe appears to be Arkansas, it will not be officially announced until late Sunday afternoon.
For Houston and the amazing Case Keenum, this loss hurts. But they will get an opportunity to finish the season on a high note. Though they learn their postseason destination on Sunday and will have an opportunity to tie the school record with their 11th win of the season.
As we get wrap up the postgame and put a bow on another championship, we stop down to give a big round of applause to the East Carolina University staff in hosting this event this week. It's a real challenge to learn that you're hosting seven days before an event like this, and the ECU staff made the planning and execution virtually seamless. A big thank you to Athletic Director Terry Holland, Nick Floyd, Lee Workman, Jimmy Bass, J.J. McLamb, Scott Wetherbee, Will Davis, Tom McClellan, Malcolm Gray, Sarah Fetters and all of the other members of the ECU Athletic Department that worked so hard to put on a successful event.
Enjoy the bowl season everyone and congratulations Pirate Nation. Aarrggh!
Posted at 5:37 p.m. ET
Parting Thoughts from EAH
As promised, C-USA delivered a thrilling championship game, compliments of East Carolina and Houston. Records fell, defense and special teams were just as much the story as offense. The one thing about a championship game that always gets to me is the excitement leading up to the game and the pride of the two participating teams who have worked hard to get there. Unfortunately, once the ball is kicked off, it's inevitable that one team will enjoy a victory, the other a loss. Working behind the scenes, I was impressed with the teams on the field today - their competitive spirit, their individual accomplishments, their team dedication and the way they carried themselves in victory and defeat. After time expired and the Pirate celebration began, Patrick Pinkney took a moment in the end zone. When asked about it during the postgame press conference, he said - "it was a dream come true." It was an emotional moment, but one that summed up this championship event quite nicely when provided that perspective.
On a less serious note, I am anxiously awaiting game highlights which will be on our website tomorrow (and maybe a good slice of pizza).
Posted at 4:55 p.m. ET
A Broken Record
Today's championship game virtually re-wrote the five-year old Conference USA championship game record book. A total of 15 individual records and 12 team records were shattered. Included were two all-time C-USA single-game marks.
Posted at 3:34 p.m. ET
All week long people talked about what would win out, the Houston offense or the East Carolina defense. Though Houston out up 557 yards of total offense, it was big plays by the Pirates defense that proved to be the difference. The final one came in the final minute, as Travis Simmons tipped a pass that Van Eskridge caught in the back of the end zone to end a Houston scoring threat and give East Carolina a 38-32 win.
With the victory, East Carolina will represent C-USA in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl on January 2.
Posted at 2:51 p.m. ET
ECU Up a Dozen
Van Eskridge returned a Case Keenum interception 30 yards to the Cougar seven yard line. On the next play, Dominique Lindsay ran in his second touchdown of the game to put the Pirates up, 31-19 early in the fourth.
Posted at 2:27 p.m. ET
ECU adds Three
Following a Houston turnover deep in ECU territory. the Pirates moved the ball down to the UH 19-yard line. From there, Ben Hartman booted home a 37-yard field goal to extend East Carolina's lead to 24-19 with 3:29 left to play in the third quarter.
Posted at 2:08 p.m. ET
Pirates Back on Top
It didn't take long for East Carolina to go back on top. The Pirates closed out their first possession of the second half with a 22-yard touchdown pass from Patrick Pinkney to a wide-open Dwayne Harris in the corner of the end zone. Ben Hartman's extra-point made it 21-19 ECU.
On the scoring drive, Dominique Lindsay went over the 1,000-yard rushing mark on the season. He is the eighth player in Conference USA to run for 1,000 yards this season, the most in league history.
Posted at 1:44 p.m. ET
Keenum to Cleveland...over and over
Houston QB Case Keenum broke the C-USA championship game record for completions in the first half with 31. His 31-o-f37 for 289 yards and three touchdowns. The three TD passes match the C-USA Championship Game record.
James Cleveland has rocked the first half for the Cougars, shattering the C-USA Championship Game record for receptions with 11 in the first half (for 140 yards and two scores). The old record was eight, held by Tulsa's Garrett Mills (2005) and Houston's Vincent Marshall (2007).
Houston has missed back-to-back extra-points, however (remember my special teams blog from this morning?) and it's Cougars 19, Pirates 14 at the half.
Posted at 1:18 p.m. ET
East Carolina Up 14-13
After Case Keenum threw his second touchdown of the game to James Cleveland, ECU answered with a touchdown run By Giavanni Ruffin. The Pirates now hold a 14-13 lead thanks to a missed extra-point by the Cougars.
Posted at 12:47 p.m. ET
East Carolina Answers
Remember what I wrote this morning about special teams? It has already played a role. After Houston scored, ECU's Dwayne Harris took the ensuing kickoff back 69 yards to set up Dominique Lindsay's one-yard TD run to even the game. At the end of the first quarter we're knotted at 7-7, making it the lowest-scoring first quarter in C-USA Championship Game history.
Posted at 12:34 p.m. ET
Houston Strikes First
Case Keenum just threw a 57-yard touchdown pass to James Cleveland to put Houston up 7-0. The 57-yarder is the longest pass play in C-USA Championship Game history.
Posted at 12:11 a.m. ET
A Little Soggy, A Lot of Noise
We are five minutes into the game and it promises to be a good one. The sideline is a little spongy, so I'll be watching from the press box. It's a great day for C-USA football.
Posted at 11:11 a.m. ET
We're underway in Greenville. The rain is holding off right now and the crowd is spirited. Both teams have punted on their opening possession and Houston is getting ready for their second possession.
Posted at 10:04 a.m. ET
Good morning/afternoon everyone, This is Jeff Conrad, Houston director of athletics communications, joining you as a guest blogger before today's Conference USA Championship game. It's always a good thing if your team is still playing in early December, so there is a lot of excitement here in Greenville, N.C.
It's hard to believe but all Cougars here today are grateful we aren't playing the Conference USA Championship Game in Houston. Normally, early December in Houston isn't too bad, but when the team pulled out for the airport Friday morning, the city of Houston was enduring a steady snowstorm. If the temperatures had been colder and the ground frozen, it would have been quite a snowstorm (by the city of Houston standards).
It's cool but not cold, wet on the field today and a little drizzly. From what we have heard from C-USA media relations guru Russ Anderson, a break in the weather seems to be coming Greenville's way. Let's hope that break sits over Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium for the next few hours.
The bad weather played havoc on our band's travel plans. Because of the messy stuff in Houston, our band did not leave Houston until 1:30 a.m., or so (Central) and did not arrive in Greenville until around 4 a.m., or so. However, I am sure that director David Bertman will have his group fired up and ready to go.
Today's game should be a good one. Most people know about the explosiveness of the Houston offense so it should be a good challenge facing a defense as stiff as East Carolina's. Whichever team wins the field-position battle and has the fewest turnovers will put themselves in position for another C-USA crown.
The winner of today's game goes into the C-USA records book as the first two-time league champion. Here's hoping it's the Cougars.
Posted at 8:32 a.m. ET
This game could be special
While most people are focusing on the matchup of Houston's offense vs. East Carolina's defense as the key to today's game, don't forget about the third element of the game - special teams.
Lightning-quick Houston sophomore kick returner Tyron Carrier leads Conference USA in kickoff return average at 29.0 per game. ECU junior kick returner Dwayne Harris is right behind him at 26.2 per return. Both players have returned three kickoffs for touchdowns, making them the first players in C-USA history to have three kickoff return scores in a season.
When it comes to field goal kicking, both teams have clutch performers. ECU senior Ben Hartman leads C-USA in scoring and is fourth in field goals made per game this season and has six game-winning kicks in his career. Houston freshman kicker Matt Hogan didn't take over the field goal kicking duties until October, but is 10-for-10 since moving into the lineup, including the dramatic 51-yard field goal at the buzzer to beat Tulsa.
Oh, and when it comes to blocking a kick, both of these teams can do it and do it very well. East Carolina has five blocks on the season, one punt and four kicks. Houston has blocked six, with L.J. Castille knocking back three and Fendi Onobun swatting two.
So, when you're watching today's game, don't forget about the impact that the third element could have on this game...it's not just about offense and defense.
Posted at 8:00 a.m. ET
Holtz Pirate Crunch
As promised, here is the recipe for Holtz Pirate Crunch, compliments of Jennifer Holtz. You may have some time to whip this up before kickoff today.
1 24 oz. pkg white almond bark, 2 c. thin pretzel sticks, 3 c. Cheerios cereal, 3 c. corn/rice Chex cereal, 3 c. wheat Chex cereal, 1-1/2 c. unsalted dry roasted peanuts, 1 lb. purple and gold M&M chocolate candies
Layer several long pieces of wax paper on counter top. Place all dry ingredients in a large bowl. Set aside. In a saucepan, over low heat, melt almond bark until smooth. Pour melted almond bark over dry ingredients and toss with wooden spoon until everything is coated. Pour mixture onto wax paper and spread into thin clusters. Allow plenty of time fo mixture to set and harden. Break into clusters of desired size.
Posted at 7:48 a.m. ET
Rain, Rain Go Away
It appears that we are going to have a new first at the Conference USA Football Championship and it's not one that we're welcoming. Rain showers moved into Greenville last night and they don't appear to be going anywhere for a while. It's been a steady rain since about 9 p.m. last night and according to Weather.com, it's not likely to let up until the late afternoon. Neither team has really played a game in rain this season, although ECU's game at Tulsa had a little mist at times.
December 4, 2009
Posted at 5:16 p.m. ET
The Houston Cougars have escaped the cold and snow of south Texas to arrive in eastern North Carolina for the championship game. Yes, that's right. I said snow. The Houston team, which is in the process of finishing final exams, moved up their scheduled departure about two hours due to the wintry weather that was moving to the Houston area.
The team landed at the Kinston Airport, about 20 miles down the road from the East Carolina campus. They were met by local television stations, which conducted interviews with head coach Kevin Sumlin. The team then boarded their bus and headed to their hotel.
The Cougars will get ready for championship Saturday with an evening agenda that looks like this: the team will eat dinner at 5 p.m., have several team meetings at 6 p.m. and go to chapel at 7 p.m. They will watch a movie at 8 p.m. and have a snack before retiring for the evening.
Posted at 4:57 p.m. ET
Back to School
East Carolina University football players visited Greenville's Wahl-Coates Elementary Friday as part of C-USA's continued efforts to become the best Division I-A collegiate conference in athletics, academics and in the community. Student-athletes Ben Herlocker, Brandon Jackson, Nate Przestrzelski and Joe Womack participated in the school's Homework Rewards Club. They talked to the kids about the importance of homework and doing well in school, handed out t-shirts and then got the chance to play games with more than 50 students.
The players made a visit to the school, just one day before the kickoff of the 2009 C-USA Football Championship Game and put smiles on the children's faces, while flashing a few smiles of their own in return.
Posted at 4:36 p.m. ET
Odd and Ends note for today. As a current resident of the Hoosier state, I feel obliged to point out the Indiana ties in this Conference USA championship game matchup. Houston coach Kevin Sumlin, an Indianapolis, Ind., native, is a 1988 graduate of Purdue, while East Carolina coach Skip Holtz, who spent time growing up in South Bend, is a 1986 graduate of Notre Dame. The two have met as head coaches of their respective teams only last year, with UH prevailing 41-24. The two have also met on the gridiron as collegiate players. A special teams member at Notre Dame, Holtz was part of a 41-9 Irish win over Purdue on Sept. 27, 1986, while Sumlin was an all-conference linebacker for the Boilermakers.
December 4, 2009
Posted at 3:17 p.m. ET
Skip Holtz Video
Click here for East Carolina head coach Skip Holtz as he talks about Saturday's gamehere
Posted at 3:13 p.m. ET
Kevin Sumlin Video
Click here for Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin as he talks about Saturday's matchuphere
Posted at 2:31 p.m. ET
We were just treated to the most delicious pre-game (or anytime) snack called "Pirate Crunch." It is made by ECU coach Skip Holtz's wife, Jennifer, and was also mentioned with rave reviews during the Pirates ESPN telecast against Virginia Tech this season. I had heard about and now I've tasted it - delicious and I might add, addictive. So not wanting to keep this delightful concocotion a secret, we asked Jennifer if she would be willing to share the recipe. Good news - she said yes! We are going to meet up with her later and get the scoop!
Posted at 1:31 p.m. ET
Pirate Pep Rally
C-USA Associate Commissioner Kelly Carney sends us this quick report from across campus from the East Carolina pep rally:
The ECU Football Pep Rally took place in the University Mall and a bunch of students showed up all dressed in Purple and Gold. The band played and cheerleaders performed - getting everyone pumped up for tomorrow's game. Athletics Director Terry Holland spoke to the group and then turned the mic over to Coach Skip Holtz. Both encouraged the crowd to come out to the game - rain or shine. Terry Holland said that the rain could actually help the ECU team and should be considered a blessing. Coach Holtz thanked the students for their support this season and talked about how important it is to have them there cheering the team own.
Posted at 12:39 p.m. ET
ESPN Getting Ready
I am back at my work station in the press box after being a part of the ESPN interviews with the East Carolina coaches over in the football offices. Ron Franklin and Ed Cunningham will be in the booth tomorrow and they just spent about 45 minutes talking to Pirates head coach Skip Holtz, offensive coordinator Todd Fitch and defensive coordinator Greg Hudson.
One of the things that was discussed in greater detail was the key storyline of Houston's offense going up against East Carolina's defense. Check the blog later for exclusive Skip Holtz video discussing this aspect of tomorrow's matchup. Ron and Ed had similar interviews with the Houston coaching staff earlier in the week, meeting by phone with head coach Kevin Sumlin, offensive coordinator Dana Holgorson and defensive coordinator John Skladany. Skladany is no stranger to C-USA football championship games, having served as defensive coordinator for the UCF team that won the title in 2007. Video of Coach Sumlin talking about the game will also be posted this afternoon. The ESPN crew arrived in Greenville yesterday and will spend the majority of the week preparing for the game. They go through each team's two-deep to learn facts and statistics about all the players, talk at length with the coaches and will spend hours watching film of both team's previous games this season. In fact, when I left them they were heading to the ECU video room to watch more film. The hard work put in by the ESPN crew should pay off with a informative and entertaining telecast on Saturday. Remember, kickoff is Noon ET on ESPN 2.
Posted at 11:26 a.m. ET
Get Your Tickets
Good seats for tomorrow's championship game remain on sale. Local Fans looking to buy tickets can come to the Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium box office to purchases tickets in person. Tickets are also available online at www.ECUPirates.com. Fans purchasing online can save time by ordering and printing out their tickets at home. Reserved Seats are $40.
Posted at 10:42 a.m. ET
Behind the scenes in Greenville
When the fans start walking through the gates at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Saturday morning, it will culminate a fast and furious week of preparation at the ECU campus and conference office for the football championship game event. Remember it was less than a week ago last Saturday that East Carolina won their final regular season game and was determined host. From that point, it was a frenzy of planning, confirming and finalizing tentative plans that had been put in place. But seeing as this is the fifth annual championship game, the frenzy is rather organized as well as energized. The excitement of the Houston-East Carolina matchup has been building all week.
Working with the marketing/media team, we planned to put several C-USA touches on the field and stadium. When we arrived at the stadium this morning, it was nice to see all the hard work come together. It takes about 3 solid days to install field wall wrap and banners around the stadium, as well as paint and touch up the field. The championship field look includes painting the championship logo on the field and one of the end zones with the participating team's word logo. Bottom line - lots of work in a very short time.
We have set up shop in the press box and will be providing more from behind the scenes.
Posted at 9:35 a.m. ET Good morning from Greenville
Happy Friday morning from Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, where the Conference USA staff and East Carolina University Athletic Department continue preparations for the big game tomorrow.
Fans attending the game tomorrow will notice some cosmetic changes around the stadium. The field features several new markings, including a pair of C-USA Football Championship logos between each 18 and 32 yard line. The C-USA corporate logo in front the of the Houston bench will be painted red and navy blue to match UH's color scheme and the south end zone will feature the same Houston text that is found in the end zone at Robertson Stadium. The Pirate logo in the state of North Carolina that debuted during the Virginia Tech game will remain in place at the center of the field.
Conference USA banners and signage is prominently displayed both inside and outside of the stadium. The signage features the C-USA logo and logos of all 12 schools on blue backgrounds.
What results is a mix of the look that the home fans are used to seeing at Pirate home games as well as the look that is commonly used at conference championship games.
Click here for a look a the stadiumhere