The Pirates will make their sixth bowl trip in seven years but will represent Conference USA in New Orleans for the first time in bowl history. The invitation officially was made by bowl officials following Saturday’s C-USA championship game when Tulsa defeated the University of Central Florida, 33-27, in overtime. The invitation was accepted by Head Coach Ruffin McNeill and Director of Athletics Terry Holland.
“We could not be more excited to have East Carolina in this year’s game” said Bowl Chairman Ron Gardner in a release. “Conference USA gave us a lot of exciting football this year, and we look forward to introducing the Pirate nation to the one of a kind of hospitality that New Orleans is famous for.”
“East Carolina will be a great representative for Conference USA,” C-USA Commissioner Britton Banowsky said in the release. “They go into the bowl with a lot of momentum, and the ECU coaches, players and fans will have a terrific experience in New Orleans.”
The Pirates won five of their final six regular-season games and head to the postseason at 8-4 overall and 7-1 in the conference, tying for the East Division title.
McNeill, in his third season at East Carolina, expressed his enthusiasm to come to New Orleans for the first time in school history.
“We are very pleased to be representing Conference USA in the 2012 R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl,” he said in the release announcing the bowl acceptance. “This trip is a reward to not only our coaches, players, but our students and fans that have supported us this season. We’ll see you in New Orleans.”
East Carolina brings a potent offense to the Crescent City, led by quarterback Shane Carden, who has completed nearly 67 percent of his passes for 2,838 yards and 21 touchdowns. Carden accounted for six touchdowns in the Pirates’ regular season finale, a wild 65-59 double overtime victory against Marshall on Nov. 23.
The Pirates are the only team in Conference USA with both a 1,000-yard rusher in Vintavious Cooper, and a 1,000-yard receiver, in Justin Hardy. Hardy ranks second in C-USA with 76 receptions, including a school-record 16 against Marshall.
The Pirates lead C-USA and are tied for fifth nationally in red zone efficiency, scoring on 45 of 49 trips inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.
Coincidentally, their bowl opponent, Louisiana-Lafayette, is tied for second nationally.
On defense, ECU has 25 sacks, led by outside linebacker Derrell Jackson’s seven. The Pirates have been opportunistic on defense and special teams with four returns for touchdowns this season.
ECU figures to travel well to New Orleans. It has led Conference USA in attendance each of the last five years and drew at least 45,000 to each of its six home games this year.
With Saturday’s acceptance, the Pirates will turn their attention to their opponent, and last year’s New Orleans Bowl Champions, Louisiana’s Ragin’ Cajuns.
The 2012 R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl will be played Dec. 22 at 11 a.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN and ESPN Radio.
For more information on the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, visit www.neworleansbowl.org.