ST. PETERSBURG — It's any observer's guess as to who departed in a better mood after Monday's proceedings at Tropicana Field: ESPN's contingent or East Carolina's.
The holiday programming coveted by the bowl-centric network this time of year came gift-wrapped Monday afternoon in brisk tempos, bloated numbers, even bits of gadgetry.
When it ended, the Pirates (10-3) and Ohio University (7-6) had combined for 1,003 yards and 18 other Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl records. Among the few things that went unbroken: ECU's resolve. Down by three with 13:34 to play, the Pirates finished with 20 straight points for a 37-20 triumph before an announced audience of 20,053.
"This group has not flinched all year," ECU coach Ruffin McNeill said.
Among those opting to flourish instead of flinch was game MVP Vintavious Cooper, whose 31-yard TD run with 9:45 to play gave the Pirates a 24-20 lead they wouldn't relinquish.
Cooper's career-best 198 rushing yards were among the bowl records. He dashed through gaping holes in his line for runs of 39 and 34 yards in the first quarter as ECU built a 14-0 lead.
East Carolina offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley "fed me today," said Cooper, whose high-tempo unit ran a bowl-record 87 plays. "And I'm pretty full."
Cooper still was digesting when his team sealed things with arguably the play of the day.
On second and 10 from the Ohio 14, ECU quarterback Shane Carden tossed behind the line to receiver Cam Worthy then sprinted for the right corner of the end zone, hounded by two defenders all the way.
Carden out-fought both for Worthy's lob pass, giving the Pirates a 31-20 lead with 7:29 to go. "I still don't know how he caught it," Ohio linebacker Keith Moore said.
Carden set a bowl record for attempts (44) and completions (29) as the Pirates amassed 568 yards (another Beef mark). Yet ECU still found itself flustered midway through the game, managing only a field goal in six possessions during one stretch.
Seizing their defense's momentum, the Bobcats nudged the throttle on their own tempo and answered with two quick second-quarter TDs.
The first, a 17-yard pass from Tyler Tettleton to Plant City High alumnus Daz'mond Patterson, was set up by a 26-yard Patterson catch on a flea flicker and ensuing roughing-the-passer penalty.
The second arrived courtesy of backup Derrius Vick, Ohio's wildcat QB who found Donte Foster (bowl-record 160 receiving yards) isolated behind the secondary on a play-action pass for an 80-yard TD.
Ohio never found the end zone again. Tettleton tossed two late interceptions, and a successful Josiah Yazdani onside kick with Ohio ahead 20-17 produced nothing.
"Not putting points on the board during that drive really hurt us," OU coach Frank Solich said. "That was a critical point in the game for us."
ECU scored TDs on three of the next four possessions.
"Execute," McNeill said. "We talked about it all week, and doing it with clear minds and no hesitation. Clear minds mean fast legs. … I was proud of the way we finished."