GREENVILLE — The offense stole the show in East Carolina’s opening night 52-7 drubbing of Western Carolina at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Saturday.
And yet, the most decisive play of the night was one turned in by the Pirates’ defense.
It’s safe to say, given the lopsided final margin, that coach Scottie Montgomery’s debut in purple and gold would still have been a happy one even without Trayvon Simmons’ rebound interception on the game’s opening series.
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Game Center: ECU vs. WCU
Sept. 3, 2016
- Inside Game Day: Pirates follow up on grand entrance by Al Myatt
- Game Day Slants: Defense nipped adversity in the bud by Brett Friedlander
- Game Day Photo Gallery: ECU 52, WCU 7 | Sept. 3. 2016 by W.A. Myatt
- ECU VS. WCU – Coach Mo Post-Game Press Conference (Recorded by W.A. Myatt)
At the same time, though, quarterback Philip Nelson and a balanced attack that rolled up 688 total yards might have had to work a lot harder for the victory than it did had ECU been faced with a little adversity to start the new season.
That’s what appeared might happen as the underdog Catamounts took the opening kickoff and roared from their own 23-yard line to the Pirates 10 behind the passing and running of quarterback Tyrie Adams.
But instead of getting into the end zone and taking an early lead, WCU’s drive came to an abrupt end when Corey Seargent put a hit on an intended receiver along the near sideline, forcing the ball into the Simmons’ waiting arms for a turnover that — as far as
Montgomery is concerned — may have changed more than just the early momentum.
“I thought the turnover at the beginning of the game was such a huge play in the game and such a huge play in the season for their confidence and everything else,” the rookie Pirates coach said. “That was a great play by that kid.”
It got even better nine plays later when Nelson scampered into the end zone for the touchdown that got ECU off and running to an impressively lopsided victory.
“They were tempoing really well, coming really fast and attacking us all the way into our red zone,” Simmons said. “But like our coach says, if we’ve got a blade of grass to defend, we have to keep going hard.
“Honestly, I just finished off the play. Sarge made a great hit and I just kept playing to the whistle. That was a really big moment for us.”
But it was hardly the defense’s only moment.
Although the Pirates at times trouble corralling Adams, especially when he was forced to improvise, they did a solid job of holding WCU down. They were especially effective at limiting last year’s Southern Conference Player of the Year Detrez Newsome, who accounted for only 50 yards on the ground while averaging a pedestrian 3.1 yards per carry.
Despite crossing midfield into ECU territory on each of their first five possessions, the Catamounts were only able to muster a single touchdown. And that came after a shanked Worth Gregory punt set them up on the Pirates’ 32.
Although the task will get exponentially more difficult next week against an N.C. State offense that put up 48 points in its opening victory Thursday, Saturday’s performance was an encouraging way to start for a unit that has often been ECU’s Achilles heel.
According to Montgomery, the key to his defense’s success against WCU was communication.
“We didn’t have communication errors out there tonight,” the coach said. “We were gap sound for the most part. What I liked is that we ran to the football and some guys made some plays. We had a tremendous amount of tackles for losses.”
ECU had six of them, to be exact, led by Yiannis Bowden’s two and Cam White’s 1.5. Though it’s the goal of new coordinator Kenwick Thompson to be more aggressive in attacking opposing offenses, outside linebacker Dayon Pratt said the job of he and his defensive mates was made much easier by the big numbers being put up by the Pirates’ offense.
“That took a little chip off our shoulder,” Pratt said of the 52 points his team scored. “Not to say we relaxed, but it settled us down and kept us focused.”