Dwayne Harris caught eight passes for 108 yard and two touchdowns, including a kickoff return for a score, to lead East Carolina to a 37-21 win over Alabama-Birmingham on Saturday.
With Marshall beating SMU 34-31, ECU would host the C-USA Championship Game if they win next week against Southern Miss. Also if Southern Miss loses against Tulsa, ECU would clinch the C-USA East Title. Right now Southern Miss is leading Tulsa 27-21 at the half
The win brought the Pirates (7-4, 6-1) one step closer to an appearance in their second straight Conference USA championship game while the Blazers fall to 5-6 overall and 4-3 in the conference.
Patrick Pinkney connected with Harris on the Pirates' opening drive for a quick 23-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead. Later in the first quarter, Harris caught a screen pass from Pinkney, turning it into a 59-yard touchdown. The extra point by Ben Hartman made it 14-3 ECU with 2:15 left in the first.
The 59-yard score was a career long for Harris, who racked up 108 yards receiving to complement his two receiving touchdowns.
Harris scored his third touchdown of the game on a career-long 99 yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter that extended ECU's lead to 37-14. It was his third kickoff return for a score this season, setting the school record.
UAB senior quarterback Joe Webb carried the offensive load for the Blazers, picking up 247 yards passing and 132 rushing. He became the first quarterback to tally over 100 yards rushing and passing against the Pirates since Marshall's Bernard Morris Nov. 10, 2007. The Blazers had 520 yards of total offense in the losing effort.
"If Joe Webb was going to throw for 300 yards, we wanted to make him earn it. If he was going to get that many yards, he was going to have to throw the ball short and keep moving it down the field. Joe Webb is an incredible competitor," head coach Skip Holtz said.
Webb's first of two touchdowns didn't come until the fourth quarter, when he found Rashaud Slaughter in the back of the endzone for a 16-yard score. It was the first UAB touchdown at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium since 2005.
Webb was plagued all evening by a Pirate defense that applied constant pressure and sacked him four times. The effort was led by Scott Robinson, who finished the game with a career-high 11 tackles, one shared sack and two-and-a-half tackles for a loss.
As the Blazers threatened to score at the end of the first half, Van Eskridge intercepted Webb's pass on the ECU two yard line and returned it 89 yards to the UAB eight, setting up Hartman for a 25 yard field goal to extend ECU's lead to 23-3 as time expired.
Eskridge's interception return was the longest for East Carolina since Kevin Monroe's 100 yard return against Louisville Nov. 14, 1998.
"We had not had a turnover-free football game all year. To have a turnover-free game tonight was huge. UAB only had 10 turnovers all year and we got two from them tonight. That was a big thing," said Holtz.
Pinkney arguably played his best game of the season, going 20-25 for 250 yards and tying his single-game high of three touchdowns, including a 59-yard bomb to Darryl Freeney that put East Carolina ahead 30-6 in the third quarter. Pinkney and Freeney hooked up seven times for 118 yards and one touchdown.
The Pirates rushed for just 75 yards in the win. The longest ECU run of the night was actually turned in by Matt Dodge on a fourth-down fake punt. He eluded a defender and rushed 19 yards for a first down. Holtz said it was an alert play by Dodge who had the option to punt the ball but decided to try for the first down.
ECU has now won eight of its last nine home games against Conference USA opponents and three straight against UAB.
"This was a single-elimination tournament and we got by round one," said Holtz in reference to ECU's road to the conference championship game. "Now we have to get ready for round two. I'm really proud of the way the players competed and what they did. It was a total team win tonight."
East Carolina closes out the regular season at home next Saturday, November 28, against Southern Miss. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.