ECU v UNC

ECU and UNC line up to start a play during the second game of the Fall 2018 season.

East Carolina University came into Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium 0-1 after losing to FCS team North Carolina A&T. Coming to town was in-state rival University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the pressure to retain bragging rights it obtained with a 70-41 win when the teams last played in 2014 coming along with it. Needless to say, the stakes were high in the game that ECU head coach Scottie Montgomery called the biggest of his coaching career.

A more consistent offense that didn’t feature last week’s mistakes, a discovery of the run game (and freshman quarterback Holton Ahlers), and a masterful defensive performance all led to a 41-19 ECU win over UNC. ECU kept its win streak over UNC alive and Montgomery’s most important game turned into his most important victory.

Montgomery was certainly pleased with the way the players responded to everything surrounding the program recently.

"I was just proud that we played hard,” Montgomery said. “I thought we outplayed them. We played harder than they did. When a football team outplays a team just by playing hard, that's critically important for a program. That's working the body, and that's exactly what we did."

The ECU (1-1) offense was clearly effective, scoring 41 points and racking up 510 total yards of offense. A noticeable difference was the absence of backbreaking mistakes that cost the Pirates a win a week ago against NC A&T. After throwing a pick-six interception and losing a fumble in the red zone last week, ECU was 3-3 in red zone chances this week, ending red zone trips with two touchdowns and a field goal.

ECU also featured much more balance on offense. Sophomore quarterback Reid Herring played well again, finishing with 290 yards and a touchdown, but only threw 32 times instead of the eye-opening 61 times in his starting debut. ECU ran the ball 49 times for 220 yards this week, achieving Montgomery’s goal by eclipsing the four yards per carry mark with an average of 4.5 per carry. Senior running back Anthony Scott led the Pirates with 73 rushing yards and a touchdown, and sophomore running back Darius Pinnix, who did not play last week, finished with a touchdown and 65 yards.

A big part of the run game emergence was the debut of highly-touted Ahlers from local D.H. Conley. Ahlers ran the ball eight times for 41 yards, and scored two touchdowns. ECU featured a lot of read options last week, but Herring didn’t run the ball any. This week, the Pirates inserted Ahlers in those situations and the offense thrived on the ground.

"It kind of gave us a different dynamic," Herring said. "We had certain situations where they put Holton in the game and he went out there and scored two times and did his job. That worked very well for us. It kind of switched up the tempo, too, at times."

The defense continued to impress under the tutelage of first-year defensive coordinator David Blackwell. After allowing 28 points to the Aggies last week, the Pirates held UNC to 19 points on Saturday, including no points in the second half.

UNC racked up 310 first-half yards of offense, but despite the big yard gainage the ECU defense forced the Tar Heels to settle for four field goals and just one touchdown. The game was still close at halftime, as ECU only led 21-19. The Pirate defense wouldn’t let UNC score in the second half and only gave up 85 yards of offense.

ECU’s defense was led by sophomore defensive back Davondre Robinson with nine tackles and sophomore linebacker Aaron Ramseur and senior safety Devon Sutton with eight tackles a piece.

A scary moment happened in the second quarter when when UNC running back Antonio Williams was flagged for leading with the helmet on junior defensive back Colby Gore in the second quarter. Gore was on the ground motionless for a few minutes before being taken away and eventually transferred to Vidant Medical Center.

"It's football and these situations happen, but boy, you don't know the emotions that a coach goes through when a player is out there playing for you, and your staff, and his teammates and his family," Montgomery said. "To have him laying down there like that, and everybody's standing around, it kind of put things in perspective about football and how hard these guys work."

Williams was ejected on the play, but left the field running down the sideline taunting the ECU crowd. Ramseur said the way Williams acted could have been a big reason for the step up in the defense’s performance.

“I know things happen, but it really ticked me off when the player came off the field and he was taunting the fans,” Ramseur said. “It was like he had no sympathy. … That’s probably what sparked it for us.”

ECU travels to face a daunting opponent next week in Virginia Tech. That may be on the horizon, but for now Montgomery’s hot seat is cooled off a little and Pirate fans get to savor the moment.

"Every time they come in here it's war," senior wide receiver Trevon Brown. "It feels good getting this win against an ACC team. Tonight was Chapel Hill against Greenville, and we got the W."

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