Scores

Final

UTEP 21

(5-7, 2-4 away)

East Carolina 53

(8-4, 5-1 home)

Coverage: CBS Sports Network

1:00 PM ET, November 28, 2008

Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, Greenville, NC

1 2 3 4 T
UTEP 0 7 7 721
ECU 14 16 10 1353

Top Performers

Passing: P. Pinkney (ECU) - 228 YDS, 2 TD

Rushing: B. Simmons (ECU) - 27 CAR, 111 YDS, 3 TD

Receiving: K. Adams (UTEP) - 9 REC, 116 YDS, 1 TD

East Carolina 53, UTEP 21

Associated Press

GREENVILLE, N.C. -- East Carolina had already locked up its spot in the Conference USA championship game and had little to gain in Friday's home finale against UTEP.

Still, the Pirates sure didn't look like a team playing a meaningless game.

Brandon Simmons ran for three scores and had a touchdown catch to help East Carolina beat UTEP 53-21, giving the Pirates plenty of momentum and confidence heading into next week's league title game.

Patrick Pinkney threw for 228 yards and two touchdowns for the Pirates (8-4, 6-2 Conference USA), who finished with season-highs in points and total offense. Darryl Freeney added 106 yards receiving and a touchdown catch as East Carolina scored on nine of 10 offensive possessions, didn't have to punt all day and got three interceptions from its defense.

"I think it speaks volumes for this football team," ECU coach Skip Holtz said. "When they say there's nothing to play for, you can't tell these guys they couldn't go out and play for pride. And they did it and put together one of their better football games."

East Carolina scored the first 24 points and scored on all five first-half drives to take a 30-7 lead into halftime. The Miners (5-7, 4-4) got no closer after the break, ending their push to become bowl eligible for the first time in three years.

This was the kind of performance the Pirates hadn't turned in since their early-season upsets of Virginia Tech and West Virginia, which thrust East Carolina into the national rankings and headlines. But a three-game losing streak at midseason ended all the crash-the-BCS talk and put the Pirates' focus back on winning their first East Division title, which had eluded them in each of the past two seasons.

They accomplished that with last week's 17-13 win at UAB, making this game little more than an opportunity to play for pride. Still, Holtz promised that it was not a "throwaway" game even as he had to find a way to keep his players motivated instead of taking a sigh of relief.

Whatever he did, it worked.

"I felt pretty confident," Holtz said. "You can tell when they're going through the motions and when they're really into it (during practice). We had to start practice over a couple of times when we didn't go out there with exactly the right tempo, but I thought they were really focused and dialed in. I felt like they'd play hard."

UTEP didn't have much to feel good about other than Terrell Jackson's 28-yard touchdown run late in the first half and Trevor Vittatoe's 50-yard TD pass to Kris Adams late in the third quarter. The loss extended an odd streak for the Miners; they haven't ended a season with a victory since 1986.

"I don't want to hang on to his one," UTEP coach Mike Price said. "I kind of want to put this one behind us. I don't want to circle anything about this game. It's past us. I thought we should have played better. I thought we would have played better."

Simmons finished with a career-high 111 yards rushing and scored three touchdowns in the first half, the last a 7-yard reception from Pinkney with 22 seconds left. Then East Carolina ran the ball nine straight times in the second half before Simmons scored for the fourth time on a 2-yard run to push the margin to 37-7.

Simmons, a senior, also had a career-high 27 carries.

"The offensive line really takes pride in opening up holes," Simmons said. "We really wanted to keep them off the field because UTEP's offense is really explosive. Everything just worked out."

In fact, very little went wrong. The Pirates had two first-half interceptions that derailed UTEP's attempts to find an early rhythm. They racked up 475 total yards and converted 12 of 18 third downs. Even struggling kicker Ben Hartman, who had missed five field goals in two games, hit four field goals -- including a 48-yarder.

East Carolina's biggest mistake was probably when kickoff returner Michael Bowman didn't tuck in his jersey on a return late in the first half. He was denied a 100-yard runback only when a defender brought him down with a last-gasp grab from behind and pulled Bowman down by his shirttail.

Instead, the Pirates had to make do with merely a 61-yard return that set up Simmons' TD catch just before halftime.

East Carolina must wait to find out who it will face in next weekend's C-USA title game. Houston, Tulsa and Rice are all tied at 6-1 atop the West Division heading into the weekend. The West Division winner will host next Saturday's game.

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Team Stat Comparison

 
UTEP
ECU
1st Downs1626
Total Yards370475
Passing313244
Rushing57231
Penalties10-794-41
3rd Down Conversions4-1112-18
4th Down Conversions0-21-2
Turnovers31
Possession21:1438:46

Passing Leaders

UTEPC/ATTYDSAVGTDINT
Vittatoe23/413137.623
East CarolinaC/ATTYDSAVGTDINT
Pinkney17/232289.920

Rushing Leaders

UTEPCARYDSAVGTDLG
Jackson34414.7128
Thomas II3134.307
East CarolinaCARYDSAVGTDLG
Simmons271114.1316
Whitley12776.4018

Receiving Leaders

UTEPRECYDSAVGTDLG
Adams911612.9150
Davis25427.0137
East CarolinaRECYDSAVGTDLG
Freeney510621.2137
Taylor35518.3022

Scoring Summary

FIRST QUARTERUTEPECU
TD04:16Brandon Simmons 12 Yd Run (Ben Hartman Kick) 07
TD01:14Darryl Freeney 32 Yd Pass From Patrick Pinkney (Ben Hartman Kick) 014
SECOND QUARTERUTEPECU
FG09:39Ben Hartman 22 Yd 017
TD04:24Brandon Simmons 6 Yd Run (Ben Hartman Kick) 024
TD02:04Terrell Jackson 28 Yd Run (Jose Martinez Kick) 724
TD00:22Brandon Simmons 7 Yd Pass From Patrick Pinkney (Pat Failed) 730
THIRD QUARTERUTEPECU
TD10:10Brandon Simmons 2 Yd Run (Ben Hartman Kick) 737
FG02:59Ben Hartman 48 Yd 740
TD01:52Kris Adams 50 Yd Pass From Trevor Vittatoe (Jose Martinez Kick) 1440
FOURTH QUARTERUTEPECU
FG10:33Ben Hartman 38 Yd 1443
FG02:12Ben Hartman 33 Yd 1446
TD00:51Evan Davis 37 Yd Pass From Trevor Vittatoe (Jose Martinez Kick) 2146
TD00:44Alex Taylor 40 Yd Kickoff Return (Ben Hartman Kick) 2153