Over 51,000 fans braved sweltering heat, crowded concourses, and stagnant concession lines to see the East Carolina Pirates host the #13 NC State Wolfpack. The recorded attendance– 51,711– wasn’t totally accurate as ticket scanners passed a few thousand students over capacity in.
What unfolded in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium was likely one of the biggest emotional rollercoaster rides of the college football season.
A Heartbreaker In Greenville
Record Crowd At Rowdy Dowdy
Greenville, North Carolina, is a place you have to go with intent. Located 90 minutes east of Raleigh and over two hours and 30 minutes south of Norfolk, you don’t just happen upon it.
Here, baseball reigns king in the spring, but football dominates the fall. For ECU’s season opener against NC State, fans showed up early. Just south of the stadium is the Belk Lot– a lively tailgating hub filled with RVs and smokers. The game kicked at noon and, by the time I walked over around nine, the party was long underway.
Two hours before kickoff, the team unloaded busses with fanfare and walked right down the main tailgating strip in a sea of hundreds of fans. The Pirate Walk is a non-negotiable for fans in Greenville.
ECU was expecting a sellout, but the wave of eager fans that descended upon Rowdy Dowdy that day set a new school record.
Fans braved highs in the 90s with no shade and unmoving concession lines for this game. Ultimately, the adjacent basketball arena was opened up for A/C and water reprieve while EMS got a workout in for fans dealing with overheating.
The concourse– of which Dowdy-Ficklen has one– wasn’t set to handle the numbers trying to traverse the horseshoe. Like walking through a packed Greenville club on a Friday night, getting from one sideline to the other took upwards of 10 minutes.
Red Flag Means War
Every single one of the 51,711 fans were ready for football. The home crowd was consistently disruptive to the visitors and fans stayed until the final whistle. The student section heartily booed every person that walked past them wearing red, creating a hostile but civil atmosphere (I’m looking at you, Backyard Brawl).
Heading into the fourth quarter, fans produce red ECU pirate flags with the saying NO QUARTER on them. The phrase delves from the 1600s and real pirate lore; “No Quarter” means no prisoners would be taken, rather everyone would be killed.
It was a strong rally cry for ECU in this fourth quarter and ties the entire pirate culture of the team together.
A Couple Quick Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium Notes
I’m not terribly sure where these fit into the narrative, so here’s a couple scattered notes about the stadium sloppily thrown in here:
- The stadium concourse doesn’t connect all the way around. I found this out the hard way after sifting through standstill foot traffic. Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium is a horseshoe and there’s no way to get from the east corner to the north corner without going back all the way around.
- Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium is a little-known venue that plays the game between hedges! Typically dedicated to SEC schools, I love this detail
#13 NC State 21, East Carolina 20
The game really starts with minutes left in the fourth quarter. ECU fought back from a 21-7 deficit and capped a long drive off with a seemingly game-tying touchdown with less than three minutes left.
That’s when usually-sure kicker Owen Daffer shanked the extra point. The oxygen was sucked right out of Rowdy Dowdy; even NC State fans couldn’t find the air to cheer.
With a gutty stroke of luck, ECU forced NC State into a three-and-out and got the football back with a minute left. Two big chunk plays put ECU into an unthinkable position to win the football game down 21-20.
The Pirates milked the clock to nine seconds left and lined up a 40-yard field goal. Daffer has a strong leg and nailed multiple clutch field goals last season. The entire city of Greenville was on the edge of their seats, ready to explode when the kick knocked through.
And then Daffer pulled the kick right.
East Carolina would go home with a heartbreaking 21-20 loss after an improbable upset being handed to them. It was unbelievably devastating.
East Carolina Game Day Grades
Stadium: B+. It’s the largest stadium in the Group of Five that’s not also a professional venue. Nothing about Dowdy-Ficklen feels like a Go5 facility. The only downside is that the concourses aren’t big enough to handle larger crowds, nor are the shoots to get to the seats– both causing real issues among fans.
Tradition: C+. ECU really leans into the pirate theme, which is a neat twist you don’t see elsewhere in the FBS. The team is led out by a real-life pirate who plants a sword, which is an electric way to get the crowd going. I also really like the No Quarter/red flag deal going into the fourth. However, longstanding traditions don’t seem to hold the historic weight that you see at other schools.
Atmosphere: A. Despite the heat and sun, fans were into this game and they stuck around. Rowdy Dowdy lived up to its name and was rocking, even when ECU was down 21-7 at the half.
Tailgating: B+. ECU has levels of SEC feel to it. Tailgating is widespread and complete with BBQ smokers fired up. Fans were disruptive and the emotion at the end of the game was palpable. This game had weight.
Fans: B. There wasn’t anything overly friendly or accommodating for ECU fans, but they’re passionate bunch. They’re loud and show up for their team. ECU fans are friendly enough and– most impressive of all– patient through the mess of the concourse logjam.
Extracurriculars: C+. Greenville’s proximity to any major city is tough, but the city itself has its fair share of bars and restaurants. However, most of the entertainment seems to be sports-focused (not a bad thing!) with the rest of the town being pretty standard for college towns.