Homecoming games are always special and this year was no exception.
After losing five straight games, East Carolina bounced back with a great effort on offense, defense and special teams. The squad’s problems in the red zone evaporated on a gorgeous football afternoon in Greenville. The Pirates even pressured the opposing quarterback.
The stars all lined up on a sunny Saturday at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium as ECU overwhelmed Connecticut 41-3.
“We had three phases of good football,” said first-year head coach Scottie Montgomery. “We have to continue to play well together defensively. Most every down people did their job and pressure was created by every position group. I thought our linebackers tackled, our defensive front controlled the line of scrimmage and our DBs covered really, really well putting them in a lot of pressure situations. . . . Offensively, I thought creativity and the plan married to execution by great players had a direct connect to our points per game being different than they have in the past.”
Football games aren’t known for tender moments, but we had one for Homecoming. Phillip Nelson hit Zay Jones on a three-yard corner route for a touchdown. Zay ran right to his parents in the corner of the end zone and the three had a great moment. They shared a celebratory hug with a moment frozen in time.
“After I caught it I had my Mom and Dad standing there and I thought it was only fitting to hug the ones that got me to this point,” said Jones after the victory. “It was just a magical moment for me and for my Mom as well, to see her in the end zone. That stuff, man, you can’t dream about that. You just have to live in the moment and embrace it.”
Another thing Zay Jones probably never dreamed of was the possibility of setting the NCAA career mark for receptions. Jones is now second all-time, just behind his former teammate Justin Hardy.
Hardy finished his career with 387 receptions. Jones now has 355 with four regular season games to go. He’ll have to average just over 8 catches per game to set the mark. In his last six games Jones has 97 catches for 841 yards. That’s an average of 16.2 catches and 140.2 yards per game.
Jones has played at a high level all season. This week his teammates followed suit.
“We had a players-only meeting,” said Jones. “It was kind of like instead of your parents getting on you, it would be your sibling. We got a lot accomplished with that meeting and I think it showed today.”
Montgomery hopes the win parlays itself into a strong finish in his first year.
“Yeah, that [Sunday] was the best defensive practice I’ve seen, maybe since we’ve been here or any place I’ve been the day after a game,” said Montgomery. “It was as clean and energetic with guys talking and holding guys accountable. It made me feel good because I know what went on Saturday night, but Sunday, we were ready to go. We knew the defensive energy was coming from something. It was connected to the win.”
Winning this week at Tulsa won’t be easy. The Golden Hurricane is riding high in the West Division of the American Athletic Conference with just one loss.
“We have to now win a big time game under the lights,” Montgomery said. “That’s going to be our theme. At this point in time our team feels we’re 1-0 and we’ve got one to go.”
The one to go this week is at Tulsa. There’s still time for this season, and Homecoming gave Pirate fans hope for a big finish.