GREENVILLE — Zay Jones caught his 19th pass of the game on the next-to-last play of the third quarter Saturday. There’s no telling how many he would have gotten had he not spent the entire fourth quarter standing on the sidelines watching the the rest of ECU’s starters.
One of these days, the senior wide receiver is liable to break the national FBS single game record of 23 receptions, set by Eastern Michigan’s Tyler Jones in 2008 and UNLV’s Randy Gatewood in 1994.
But given the choice, Jones will gladly sacrifice that bit of individual immortality for a few more Saturdays like the one the Pirates enjoyed on this picture-perfect Homecoming afternoon against UConn.
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East Carolina 41, UConn 3 | Oct. 29, 2016
- Al Myatt’s Inside Game Day: Pirates perform on homecoming
- Brett Friedlander’s Game Day Slants: Huskies can’t handle prolific Jones
- W.A. Myatt’s Game Day Photo Gallery
- Audio: Coach Mo Post-Game
Not only did Jones get those 19 grabs — for 185 yards and a touchdown — but he also threw a scoring strike to quarterback Philip Nelson to lead a long-overdue 41-3 rout of the Huskies that got ECU back into the win column for the first time since Sept. 10.
“It definitely felt good,” Jones said of both the win and the ease with which it was achieved.
His performance was all the more special because it came on Homecoming at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium with his father Robert in the stands watching.
Like Zay, Robert Jones also played for the Pirates and is a member of the ECU Hall of Fame.
Even though the elder Jones was a talented enough linebacker to earn All-American honors in 1991 and go on to a successful 10-year career in the NFL, he might have had a hard time trying to cover his son the way the younger Jones has been going this season.
Zay Jones came into Saturday’s game leading the nation at 13.6 catches per game. And yet, even though everyone in the stadium knew the Pirates would be looking to get him the ball as much as possible, he still managed to get open seemingly every time his number was called.
“I’ve never thrown to a guy like that,” Nelson said of his favorite target. “I try to go through my reads, but sometimes the coaches just want me to go to him.
“Our coaches do a great job schematically. We move him around and make sure he gets his touches. At the same time, UConn was giving us a lot of opportunities to throw to him one-on-one today, so I was glad we were able to take advantage of that.”
As adept as Jones is at catching Nelson’s passes, he also showed that he can deliver a strike as well by hitting his quarterback on a trick play on third-and-goal from the UConn 1. The star receiver took a handoff from James Summers off a direct snap and threw to a wide-open Nelson, whose fingertip catch in the end zone gave ECU a 14-3 halftime lead and proved to be the catalyst for a second-half blowout.
“I like catching them more, but it was awesome throwing one,” Jones said. “Phil Nelson, it was a great catch, [especially] with no gloves.”
With his 19 catches, Jones now has 114 for the season. That ties Justin Hardy for the second-most in a season in ECU history. He also became the fastest Pirate to surpass the 1,000-yard mark in a season Saturday.
At his current pace, Jones won’t just surpass Hardy’s school record of 121 catches in a season and his former teammate’s national career mark of 387, he’ll totally obliterate both. If he stays healthy for the final four games, he could easily reach 400 career catches.
“Zay Jones, he’s a special one,” said ECU coach Scottie Montgomery, who knows a thing or two about receivers having been one himself in college and the NFL. “I’ve been around a lot of great players, some spectacular players, and he’s one of the best on-field players I’ve been around. And he’s one of the best off-field performers I’ve been around on this level. I can’t say enough about him and the way he captained this team this week.”
Montgomery is talking about the players-only meeting Jones and several other seniors held during the week in an effort to help turn things around.
Not only did he set an example for his teammates with his words, he then went out and set the bar even higher with his play — with or without that single-game record.