High hopes and enthusiasm for the 2005 season took a major hit on Saturday at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, as East Carolina prevailed at home over the Blue Devils 24-21.
Four turnovers, including two inside the Pirates 20-yard line, proved too much for Duke to overcome in the season opener.
The game began with a flurry of activity as both teams made big plays in the kicking game. Each team punted on their opening drive, but it was East Carolina that made a big play with the Blue Devils' first punt.
Travis Williams took the kick from Duke punter Chris Sprague and raced his way all the way down to the Blue Devil four-yard line, which allowed Pirates' quarterback James Pinkney to score the game's first touchdown on a one-yard quarterback plunge.
Duke's Ronnie Drummer wouldn't let East Carolina's special teams spark go unanswered, as the sophomore ripped off a 100-yard kickoff return to immediately knot the game up at 7-7.
Duke had major problems containing Pinkney and his favorite receiving target, Aundrae Allison all afternoon.
Allison hauled in a 50-yard pass from his quarterback for East Carolina's second touchdown after winning a battle with Duke junior cornerback Deonto McCormick. He continued to be a thorn in Duke's side, making four catches to convert on either third or fourth down to move the chains for the Pirates.
On the day, Allison had 11 catches for 163 yards.
Duke would have been in good position to win the game if the Blue Devils offense could have finished the job on a couple of scoring opportunities.
Early in the second quarter and trailing 14-7, Duke had the ball inside East Carolina's 15-yard line facing a third-and-two situation when Mike Schneider and Justin Boyle muffed an exchange, leading to a fumble recovery for the Pirates.
To start the second half, Duke pieced together a solid opening series, moving the ball down to the Pirates' four-yard line in 11 plays. Trailing 17-14, it looked like Duke would forge ahead and seize momentum. Schneider was intercepted in the endzone, however, as he tried to zip a pass over the middle to Ronnie Elliott. East Carolina safety Zach Baker picked the pass off to foil the Duke advance.
After an exchange of punts, Pinkney marshalled another scoring drive that ended identically to East Carolina's first scoring drive after Pinkney snuck in from a yard out.
Duke staged a rally in the fourth as Justin Boyle finished a strong scoring drive with his second touchdown of the game to cut the lead to 24-21, but Duke would not take another snap in East Carolina territory the rest of the game.