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By JIM MOORE
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Moments after ECU had rallied to beat Ohio and win the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl on Dec. 23, defensive end Terrell Stanley smiled as he put on his championship cap.
“Greatest feeling of my life,” he said. “We did it.”
Stanley, a South Brunswick High School graduate, was one of many Pirates smiling after the 37-20 victory before a crowd of 20,053 at Tropicana Field. He finished with two tackles and in the fourth quarter he had two sacks, one for a 9-yard loss.
Stanley and the ECU defense held Ohio to 107 yards rushing.
“They’re a very, very physical football team on the defensive side, and very strong,” Ohio coach Frank Solich said. “Generally you’re not going to traditionally line up and just run the ball right at them and feel like you're going to be successful.”
Ohio, however, led by three points with 13 minutes, 34 seconds left before the Pirates scored 20 straight points.
“We just continued with our game plan,” Stanley said, “keeping defensive pressure on the quarterback and stopping the running game. We finally stopped their passing game as our offense started scoring.”
The offense was led by Vintavious Cooper, who rushed for a career-best 198 yards, setting a Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl record and earning the MVP award.
The Pirates (10-3) grabbed the lead for good on the first of Cooper’s two touchdown runs in the fourth quarter, a 31-yard run with fewer than 10 minutes left. Cooper later scored on a 22-yard run to clinch the victory.
ECU junior quarterback Shane Carden threw for 273 yards and one touchdown and also scored on a pass reception. On a trick play, Cam Worthy took a lateral from Carden and threw 14 yards back to Carden for a touchdown and a 31-20 lead.
Ohio (7-6) overcame an early two-touchdown deficit in taking a 20-17 lead. Containing Stanley at defensive end appeared to be part of its game plan.
“They put a lot of double teams on me,” Stanley said, “but coaches kept moving my position back and forth from the left and right side of the line.”
The strategy eventually prevailed, as Stanley had two sacks in the pivotal fourth quarter.
“The conditioning that the coaches push so hard paid off as they worn down,” Stanley said. “Our extra hours in the weight room paid off. I was able to push through the line and get to the quarterback.”
ECU finished with 10 victories for the second time in its history and won a bowl game for the first time since 2007.
ECU coach Ruffin McNeill was emotional after the game, wiping away tears as he accepted the bowl trophy and thanked the players, his coaching staff and the Pirates’ fans.
“Thanks to all of y’all for coming,” McNeill said. “Thanks for helping us win the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl. Champions, y’all. Champions.”