As part of SB Nation’s Rivalry Week, we are going to take a look at the rivalry between the UCF Knights and the East Carolina Pirates.
At first glance, the casual fan might wonder why UCF vs ECU is a rivalry. If you look at some of the other articles floating around, not on the Black and Gold Banneret, UCF and East Carolina aren’t usually listed together as rivals.
Rivalries can form in numerous ways. They could be geographical like UCF vs. Stetson, financial like UCF vs. South Florida, manufactured like UCF vs. Marshall and UCF vs. UConn, or built on a specific event like this rivalry. Yes, the animosity between UCF and East Carolina can be traced back to a single moment.
In 1993, East Carolina was a Division I-A Independent one year removed from a 11-1 campaign in 1991 where the Pirates won the Peach Bowl and finished in the top 10 behind quarterback Jeff Blake, who finished sixth in the Heisman voting. In 1992, Blake was gone and coach Bill Lewis was hired to run Georgia Tech. Lewis never found success at Georgia Tech and was out of coaching before the end of the 1994 season. Replaced by new coach Steve Logan, the Pirates fell to 5-6 as they worked to rediscover themselves. After tasting the high level of success in 1991, the Pirate fan base yearned to drink out of that fountain once more.
After the dud that was the 1992 season, the 1993 season had much hype behind local freshman sensation Marcus Crandell. After a hard fought 41-22 loss to sixth ranked Syracuse at home on a Thursday night on ESPN, the Pirates were scheduled to host I-AA UCF at home nine days later. The Pirates easily outclassed the lower division Knights 41-17, but during game, Crandell was hit late by UCF linebacker Emil Eklyor, fracturing his tibia and dislocating his ankle. After the injury, fans pelted the field with debris Crandell’s season was done and his backup, Chris Hester, was hurt the next week.
The Pirates started 1-1 and limped to a 2-9 final record, the worst season since 1985 and until a one win season in 2003. The fans look squarely at the Eklyor hit as the reason why the season went so horribly wrong and it fueled their negative feelings. The Orlando Sentinel recapped the incident and the potential budding rivalry. Bonesville also looked back at the game ahead of the 2005 matchup.
Where are they now? ECU coach Steve Logan continued to coach the Pirates as they later joined Conference USA until the end of the 2002 season while reaching five bowl games. Pirate quarterback Marcus Crandell still put together a nice career while in Greenville, setting more than 30 offensive records, leading the team to a pair of Liberty Bowl appearances and later a professional career in the CFL, XFL, and NFL Europe. He’s also coached in the CFL and in college.
While East Carolina officials didn’t think the play was intentionally dirty, they were not happy with how UCF players reacted, or rather, didn’t react to the serious injury. Despite the injury and the enraged fans and upset coaches, UCF would travel to Greenville two more times. Once the following year in 1994, where ECU edged out a 23-20 win and in 1996, UCF’s first season as a member of Division I-A, the Pirates won easily 28-7. In 2005, UCF would find their first win as first year members of Conference USA’s East Division 30-20. The win helped propel the Knights to win the division championship and secure their first ever bowl bid.
The Pirates would win the next four matchups with the Knights to take an 8-1 lead, including a 52-38 beatdown in 2007 that had UCF winning 28-17 at halftime, give up 28 points and five turnovers in the third quarter alone and could not recover. In 2010, fortune turned the Knights’ way as they have won seven of the last nine matchups, including the last four to make the series 10-8 ECU.
The biggest win for UCF was the final game of the 2014 season. East Carolina was in their first season as members of the American Athletic Conference, a year after UCF joined the former Big East conference. In 2013, the Knights surprised the college football world by going 12-1 and winning the Fiesta Bowl in the AAC’s last season as a BCS auto-qualifying conference. The Pirates also had a good year in 2013, finishing second in C-USA East with ten wins and a Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl win.
With only eleven members in the AAC that year and no conference championship game, the AAC was potentially stuck with having to share the championship among multiple teams. Memphis and Cincinnati were both 7-1, but Memphis had defeated the Bearcats earlier in the season to own the head-to-head tiebreaker. UCF, coming into the final week with a 6-1 conference record, didn’t play either Memphis or Cincinnati. The Knights’ lone blemish was a fluke loss to UConn earlier in the season. Memphis had lost to Houston while UCF had defeated the Cougars. As a result, a UCF win would create a shared championship scenario between the Knights, Memphis, and Cincinnati.
Since that night, ECU was able to take advantage of a winless UCF in 2015, but have greatly struggled as a program, having a losing season every season since 2015. UCF has gone in the opposite direction from 2015, going from winless to being in a bowl in each of the last four seasons with the last three having more then ten wins.
There is another connection between the two schools. Ronald Dowdy, whose name is a part of ECU’s Dowdy-Ficklin Stadium, is an Orlando resident. He graduted from East Carolina in 1966, was commissioned as an Air Force officer, and was stationed at McCoy Air Force Base in Orlando before serving four tours in Vietnam. He donated $1 million in 1994 to the school for stadium renovations, which is how he got his name on the building. He later served on the school’s board of trustees and has done a lot for East Carolina and was inducted into their hall of fame in 2015.
On the flip side, Dowdy started working in real estate in Orlando when his military career ended in 1971. Over the 40 plus years of real estate, he worked with a variety of charitable organizations in Orlando. He also worked with Florida Citrus Sports, who run Camping World Stadium, the former home of UCF football. Dowdy has donated a lot of money to UCF, including moneys that helped launch the football program in 1979. He offered $2 million to buy naming rights to help convince Bright House Networks to outbid him. In 2015, Dowdy was inducted into the Central Florida Hospitality Hall of Fame. Oddly enough, Ron Dowdy isn’t the only person to have split loyalties with UCF and another American Athletic Conference school as Gary Bryant has strong ties to UCF and Memphis.
Despite the various ups and downs in the two programs, there is no doubt that there is bad blood between the two schools and it dates back to that one hit in 1993.