GREENVILLE, N.C.(AP) Brandon Simmons ran for three scores and had a touchdown catch to help East Carolina beat UTEP 53-21 on Friday in its final home game.
Patrick Pinkney threw for 228 yards and two touchdowns for the Pirates (8-4, 6-2 Conference USA), who have already clinched a berth in next week's league championship game. Though there was nothing to play for in the standings, the Pirates came out with probably their best performance of the season and quickly turned the game into a rout.
East Carolina scored the first 24 points and scored on all five first-half drives to take a 30-7 lead into the break. The Miners (5-7, 4-4) got no closer after the break, ending their push to become bowl eligible for the first time in three years.
The Pirates didn't punt and scored on their first eight offensive possessions.
Simmons finished with a career-high 111 yards rushing and scored three touchdowns in the first half, the last a 7-yard reception from Pinkney with 22 seconds left. Then East Carolina ran the ball nine straight times in the second half before Simmons scored for the fourth time on a 2-yard run to push the margin to 37-7.
In fact, very little went wrong on the day. The Pirates had two first-half interceptions that derailed UTEP's attempts to find an early rhythm. They racked up a season-high 475 total yards and converted 12 of 18 third downs. Even struggling kicker Ben Hartman, who had missed five field goals in two games, hit four field goals - including a 48-yarder.
East Carolina's biggest mistake was probably when kickoff returner Michael Bowman didn't tuck in his jersey on a return late in the first half. He was denied a 100-yard runback only when a defender brought him down with a last-gasp grab from behind and pulled Bowman down by his shirttail.
Instead, the Pirates had to make do with merely a 61-yard return that set up Simmons' TD catch just before halftime.
East Carolina, the league's East Division winner, must wait to find out who it will face in next weekend's C-USA title game. Houston, Tulsa and Rice are all tied at 6-1 atop the West Division heading into the weekend. The West Division winner will host next Saturday's game.