GREENVILLE -- Rice was the perfect Homecoming guest for East Carolina. For one October afternoon, the hapless Owls made the Pirates look like kings.
Senior receiver Dwayne Harris scored three touchdowns, including a 92-yard kickoff return, to lead ECU to an easy 49-13 win over the winless Owls at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Saturday.
The Pirates (4-3) scored more points (28) in the first half, than they had in five games against Bowl Subdivision opponents this season. Harris finished with nine catches for 128 yards and two touchdowns. His 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown came after the Owls (0-7) cut the lead to 21-10. It's the second consecutive week Harris has scored on a kickoff return.
Coming off a 28-21 road loss to SMU, the Pirates needed a pick-me-up in Conference USA. Enter the Owls. The NCAA ranks 120 teams, by offense and defense, in 13 statistical categories and the Owls rank in the 100s in 11 of them.
At 4-3 ECU's not where it wanted to be when the season began, but at 3-1, it leads C-USA's East Division by a half-game. They can only hope to carry over some confidence from Saturday's win into the wacky second half of the schedule which includes a Tuesday night game (at Memphis on Oct. 27), followed by a Thursday night game (Virginia Tech, Nov. 5), capped off by a Sunday night game (at Tulsa, Nov. 15).
The Pirates' defense, had their usual lapse against the pass, giving up an 80-yard touchdown strike from Nick Fanuzzi to Toren Dixon in the second quarter, but that was the only touchdown they allowed.
The offense got going early, scoring on the opening drive. A 23-yard reception by Harris set up his first score, a 16-yard touchdown pass from Patrick Pinkney to Harris. Pinkney entered the game with four touchdown passes in the first six games. He had three, and 231 yards, on Saturday.
ECU's second drive, interrupted by an interception, also ended in a touchdown pass by Pinkney. Rice's Ronnie Lillard intercepted Pinkney at the 11-yard line but fumbled on the return, giving the ball back to ECU at the 33-yard line. Six plays later, Pinkney hit tight end Rob Kass for a 2-yard touchdown.
It wasn't all good news for ECU's offense. Senior running back Dominique Lindsay left the game in the second quarter with an injured left ankle. He had 78 rushing yards, on 12 carries, before he got hurt. Lindsay, the team's leading rusher, was coming off a 144-yard effort against SMU.
Even without Lindsay, ECU stretched its lead out to 21-3 on running back Brandon Jackson's 2-yard TD run.
Harris followed Dixon's 80-yard touchdown with the big kickoff return and ECU led 28-10 at the half.
The Owls kicked a field goal in the third quarter and had a chance to make it a one-score game but an interception by ECU linebacker Dustin Lineback set up a 7-yard touchdown run by Giavanni Ruffin.
Harris capped his productive day with a 7-yard touchdown pass from Pinkney before coach Skip Holtz brought in the second-team offense, including the debut of redshirt freshman quarterback Josh Jordan.
• Pick by Dustin Lineback sets up a Giavanni Ruffin TD run for Pirates.
• Field goal for Rice. Yawn.
• Hang up the phone, Dwayne Harris returns the ensuing kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown. Second straight week Harris has returned a kickoff for a score.
• Hold the phone, 80-yard TD pass from Nick Fanuzzi to Toren Dixon at least gives the Owls some life.
• And the rout is on. A 20-yard pass to Reyn Willis sets up a 2-yard TD run by Brandon Jackson.
It hasn't all been good news. The Pirates did lose running back Dominique Lindsay to apparent ankle injury earlier in the second quarter.
• A 2-yard pass from Patrick Pinkney to tight end Rob Kass caps a strange scoring drive for ECU.
Pinkney was intercepted by Rice's Ronnie Lillard, who proceeded to fumble on the return and give the ball back to ECU.
The Pirates made the most of the second chance, overcoming a pair of holding penalties. It was the first touchdown reception for Kass, a converted quarterback.
• Just another day in C-USA. Rice picks up three points on its first possession, a 33-yarder by Clark Fangmeier.
• ECU wastes little time against winless Rice, scoring on the first drive. Patrick Pinkney hit receiver Dwayne Harris for a 23-yard gain to set up a 16-yard catch by Harris to give the Pirates a 7-0 lead.