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NC State Football


May 2, 2020

In this feature, we'll take a look back at NC State football and various eras while opening up discussion on what could have changed had situations played out differently. Today we discuss the series against East Carolina.

What would have happened if NC State had not cancelled the annual series with East Carolina? 

Imagine a school hosting an in-state opponent at home for 18 straight seasons. It actually happened. 

NC State played home games annually against East Carolina from 1970 through the 1987 season. The Wolfpack fared well against the Pirates, going 12-6 during that span. 

NC State defeated East Carolina in the 2019 season opener.

ECU showed spunk and refused to be a pushover. The Pirates won in 1971 and posted consecutive wins in 1976 and 1977 (Bo Rein’s first two seasons as head coach at NC State). 

East Carolina, under the leadership of first-year head coach Pat Dye, also gave the eighth-ranked Wolfpack a run for their money in 1974 before ultimately losing, 24-20. That came after a 57-8 drubbing in the previous year’s season opener which was one of only two defeats for a Pirates squad that won the Southern Conference. The only other loss was a one-point road decision to North Carolina. From 1972 through 1979, ECU’s football program was 66-22-1 overall. 

Rein and Dye both left for the SEC after the 1979 season, and the two programs promptly fell off. 

The building of then-Carter Stadium in 1966 was an expensive endeavor for NC State. The annual game with East Carolina presented an opportunity for the University to fill its coffers, as it typically provided larger crowds in an era where the Wolfpack selling out home football games was not necessarily the norm. 

The Wolfpack continued to host the Pirates and extended its winning streak to five games as State took all three of the match-ups in Monte Kiffin’s tenure. That ended in 1983. 

Over a five-year stretch, the Pirates won three times (1983, 1985, and 1987). The games, being played near the Fairgrounds with tailgating from fans throughout the state, brought the worst in terms of the aftermath. 

It all ended after the Wolfpack fell to ECU at home in 1987 (Dick Sheridan’s second season as head coach). There were fights and property damage at Carter-Finley Stadium. Suddenly the game which was once a financial necessity had become a fiscal burden. NC State athletic director Jim Valvano cancelled the series. 

If NC State had won the games, obviously the outcomes would not be the same on the field – but the altercations could have just as easily still happened in the stands, concourse, or parking lot. 

Was NC State right to cancel the series?

The truth is, once the monetary incentive to play East Carolina was removed, the Wolfpack had little else to gain. It was a game they were supposed to win and could only receive embarrassment if they lost.

Games selling out at Carter-Finley on a frequent basis, which was also happening by the late 80s, furthermore removed the need for the Pirates – although the game played at the end of the 2018 campaign after both schools had earlier cancellations due to a hurricane provided a bigger crowd than a late-season contest of little consequence would have normally. 

Should the series be played more frequently? How long would NC State have scheduled East Carolina? Would the Wolfpack have ever made the trip to Greenville without being pressured to do so over a decade later? What would annual battles between Mike O’Cain or Chuck Amato against Steve Logan or Skip Holtz have been like? 

What do you think? Premium subscribers can leave their thoughts and opinions in the comment section. 

NEXT: Inside Pack Sports will look at more defining moments in NC State’s football history in the next installment in the coming days.

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