GREENVILLE, N.C. — Tulane stayed within shouting distance of heavily favored East Carolina until the final 10 minutes Saturday, but the Pirates just kept their feet on the gas.
Shane Carden completed 31 of 44 passes for 358 yards and ran for another on the day teammate Justin Hardy set an NCAA record for receptions as ECU rolled to a 34-6 victory before a crowd of 48,433 at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
East Carolina (7-3, 4-2 American) had been ranked as high as No. 18 before losing two straight going into Saturday’s contest.
ECU leads the all-time series 11-3 after avenging its 36-33 triple-overtime loss at the Superdome last year.
Freshman Tanner Lee completed 25 of 43 passes for his season-best 301 yards for Tulane (3-8, 2-5). He completed passes to 10 teamates, including six for 40 yards to Dontrell Hilliard.
And safety Sam Scofield had 17 tackles and 10 solos, two in the open field to prevent ECU touchdowns.
“I really love that kid (Hardy),” Tulane coach Curtis Johnson said. “I think (Carden) and Hardy are just fantastic football players, and both of those guys should share that record.
“We played a lot of freshmen. I would look up and all the receivers are true freshmen. In an environment like this with a team playing like this, it’s tough to maintain, but hats off to their defense.”
Hardy caught nine passes for 104 yards and now has his 355 receptions, breaking the NCAA Division I FBS record of 349 set by Oklahoma’s Ryan Broyles in 2011.
“It was a great team effort,” Pirates coach Ruffin McNeill said. “Our guys just kept stepping up and playing good football. They each had the opportunity to make plays, and we got a very, very good performance out of our defense. And Justin did a good job today. I’m really proud of him.”
After being stopped on downs at its own 48 on its first possession, ECU went 67 yards in 12 plays to set up Warren Harvey’s 35-yard field goal with 4:33 left in the first quarter.
The Pirates made it 10-0 following a 4-yard pass from Carden to Isaiah Jones to complete a seven-play, 90-yard drive.
Tulane cut the lead to 10-3 on Andrew DiRocco’s 33-yard field goal with 9:22 left in the half.
Scofield kept the margin at seven when he tackled Breon Allen for a 1-yard loss on fourth-and-goal at the Green Wave 2 with 1:52 left in the half.
But Allen made amends with a 15-yard touchdown run up the middle to complete a four-play, 49-yard march 28 seconds before intermission.
Harvey added a 33-yard field goal to give the Pirates a 20-3 lead with eight seconds left in the third.
DiRocco responded with a 40-yard field goal with 10:06 to play to cut the margin back to 14.
“I guess the 300 (yards) was a nice milestone, but it was tough to get it in a loss,” Lee said. “It was a disappointing day. That team is really good and has some really good players. Hats off to them.
“I’d say their defense compares to Rutgers and Memphis in terms of size. It’s just a competent defense.”
The Pirates put it away on Marquez Grayson’s seven-yard scoring run with 7:07 to go, and Carden added an 11-yard scoring run with 44 seconds to play.
Saturday’s game was Tulane’s second trip to North Carolina this season. Duke had trounced the Green Wave 47-13 on Sept. 20 in Durham.
After an open date, the Green Wave’s season will end Dec. 6 when Temple visits Yulman Stadium.