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Posted on: Sunday, December 23, 2007

Boise State's winning not lost on East Carolina

By Kyle Sakamoto
Advertiser Staff Writer

SHERATON HAWAI'I BOWL

Who: East Carolina (7-5) vs. Boise State (10-2)

When: Today at 3 p.m.

Where: Aloha Stadium

TV/RADIO: ESPN (analog 22/digital 222)/ESPN 1420 AM

Tickets: $10 to $45

Game day: Parking gates and box office open at 10 a.m.; stadium gates open at noon.

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East Carolina head football coach Skip Holtz spent last New Year's enjoying Boise State's upset of Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.

If anyone forgot what happened that night in Tempe, Ariz., Boise State pulled out a 42-35 overtime victory with the use of a hook-and-lateral, halfback option pass and Statue of Liberty play.

"When you look at what Boise State has accomplished, especially over the last couple of years — the BCS bid a year ago and the Fiesta Bowl and what they did to Oklahoma in arguably one of the most exciting games in about the last 10 years — I know I sat on my couch and loved watching every minute of it," Holtz said.

Like most sports fans, he likes the underdog.

"It's the underdog and everyone in the country was pulling for them and to see them pull it off was awesome," Holtz said.

As fate would have it, East Carolina will meet Boise State today in the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl at Aloha Stadium. This time, Holtz's Pirates are the underdogs.

"I'd rather have the better team than be the underdog," he said.

Local football fans are already familiar with Boise State, which, like Hawai'i, is a member of the Western Athletic Conference.

The Broncos are 10-2 and ranked No. 24 in the Bowl Championship Series standings. Since 2000, they have an .851 winning percentage and average 41.85 points per game, both are tops for NCAA I-A teams.

Running back Ian Johnson (203 carries for 1,030 yards and 16 touchdowns), quarterback Taylor Tharp (259 of 379 for 3,070 yards and 28 touchdowns) and offensive tackle Ryan Clady, a top NFL prospect, lead the offense. Leading receiver Jeremy Childs (82 catches for 1,045 yards) didn't make the trip because of a violation of team rules.

The defense is led by linebacker Kyle Gingg (86 tackles), safety Marty Tadman (83 tackles) and defensive end Mike T. Williams (six sacks).

Boise State head coach Chris Petersen is 23-2 in his two seasons. The Broncos missed out on a sixth consecutive WAC title after losing to host Hawai'i, 39-27, on Nov. 23.

East Carolina finished 7-5 overall and in second place in Conference USA's East Division (6-2).

Leading the Pirates' offense is Chris Johnson (208 carries for 1,200 yards and 16 touchdowns). Patrick Pinkney (109 of 181 for 1,240 yards and 10 touchdowns) and Rob Kass (95 of 172 for 1,128 yards and nine touchdowns) have split time at quarterback.

Leading the defense is defensive back Van Eskridge (96 tackles), linebacker Pierre Bell (88 tackles) and defensive lineman C.J. Wilson (six sacks).

Holtz, the son of former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz, is 19-17 in three seasons as East Carolina coach. Before Holtz, the Pirates hadn't had a winning season since 2000 (8-4).

"This football team set out three years ago to prove we can win again at East Carolina," Holtz said. "What Boise State has accomplished over the last five or six years is where we aspire to be as a program."

Reach Kyle Sakamoto at ksakamoto@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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