College football will return to Greenville Saturday, as East Carolina will take the field for the first time under its new coaching staff, led by rookie head coach Scottie Montgomery
“We’ve prepared a long time for this week and weeks to come,” said Montgomery. “It’s a great opportunity to see where we are as a team on Sep. 3. We are looking forward to the energy and the enthusiasm that Dowdy-Ficklen provides us.”
Saturday will be the first time the Pirates can show off their new offense, as they will spend the next few days leading up to their matchup against Western Carolina preparing. And for some players, this week is about preparing themselves for their last first game as a Pirate.
“I can’t explain it because it is my last first game here,” said wide receiver Zay Jones. “I’m just trying to hold everything in. Just stay focused, do the things that I need to do, focus on my technique and really help this team go on to win this game.”
Hosting the Catamounts will prove to be an early-season challenge for ECU’s defense. With a plethora of WCU’s offensive starters returning, it will use both zone-read and triple-option schemes during Saturday’s matchup, appearing to give it an upper hand on ECU’s defense as the Pirates have struggled with that style of offense over the years, particularly against Navy.
Montgomery said Catamount running back Detrez Newsome will be a tough player for the Pirates’ defense. Newsome rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2015 with nine touchdowns and had over 100 rushing yards in six of the 11 games he played in.
“He’s a hard tackle. He’s quick,” Montgomery said. “Not only is he quick, but he’s a guy that if he gets out two-to-three yards in front of you, he can take it the distance.”
After completing his four-year career at Western Carolina, Troy Mitchell, the Catamounts starting quarterback in 2015, left as the program’s all-time leader in total offense with 9,397 yards collected. With Mitchell’s departure, the starting position was left to a battle between previous backup, junior Wes Holcombe and redshirt freshman Tyrie Adams.
The Catamounts could also pose a threat passing, as Steffon Hill, Michael Helms Jr. and Tyler Sexton will be targeted through the air. All three provide experience, as they were starters last year, giving the quarterback several viable options.
Hill was second on the team with 38 catches for 457 yards and two touchdowns. Sexton and Helm Jr. highlight a seasoned tight end group, as Sexton made eight starts at tight end with 31 catches for 385 yards and three touchdowns before breaking his arm against Texas A&M last season. The injury allowed the fellow senior, Helm Jr. to step up and solidify himself.
“Those quarterbacks have some weapons to use and we’re trying to prepare ourselves defensively for anything that they may throw at us,” said Montgomery.
For the Pirates, quarterback Philip Nelson will also have several weapons to utilize, just as the Catamounts will. From Jones to tight end Stephen Baggett, Nelson has several options to make ECU’s home opener an offensive battle.
“We’re just trying to take it day by day,” quarterback Philip Nelson said. “No moment’s too big. Just trying to stay calm and relaxed and just focus on our execution. That’s really the big thing for us.”