GREENVILLE — There were a lot of surprised people both in the stands and on the field at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Saturday when ECU coach Scottie Montgomery told his offense to stay on the field for a fourth-and-one play from its own 36 late in the first quarter against N.C. State.
Zay Jones wasn’t among them.
“That’s the kind of go-get-it type team we are,” the senior wide receiver said. “Whether it’s fourth-and-one or fourth-and-six, I trust my coach and my teammates to get the first down. That’s what we went out there and did.”
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ECU 33, NCSU 30 | Sept. 10, 2016
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The Pirates didn’t just convert the opportunity when Anthony Scott plowed through the line for a three-yard gain. They also made a second gamble pay off when James Summers took a direct snap and scrambled for five yards on a fourth-and-two play later on the same possession.
Although the drive only yielded three points on a 43-yard Davis Plowman field goal to increase the Pirates’ lead to 12-0, the decision to go for it on fourth down — twice — made a statement that was received loud-and-clear by both teams.
It said that this ECU team isn’t going to sit back and play it safe.
“If you’ve been around the coaches I’ve been around, whether it be Mike Tomlin or Coach Cut (Duke’s David Cutcliffe), there’s kind of a history of using all four downs,” Montgomery said. “I told our [offense] early in the week that we’re going to do everything we can do to beat N.C. State. Sometimes you use one, two, three and even sometimes you get to use four [downs] down there in your own territory. We’re very glad that it worked out.”
It worked out all three times Montgomery rolled the dice. Summers also converted on a fourth-and-one play from the Wolfpack 28 just before halftime.
For quarterback Philip Nelson and the ECU offense, the aggressive strategy represented a vote of confidence that carried over throughout a game in which the Pirates rallied for the winning touchdown by driving 84 yards on 14 plays late in the fourth quarter.
But unlike his favorite receiver Jones, Nelson wasn’t immediately as convinced going for it on fourth down in his own territory was a good idea.
“I was just thinking ‘We need to get this. We can’t give them that field position,’” Nelson said. “Once I saw Coach Mo make the call and I saw him start pacing back-and-forth . . . he’s a confident guy. He trusts in us. He believes in us. That’s what it showed to me, so I was excited to do that.”
While Nelson viewed Montgomery’s aggressiveness as a show of confidence, Summers — the player that converted two of the three fourth down plays — took it as a challenge.
“We knew if we could get one yard, we could move the ball consistently,” the senior quarterback/running back/wide receiver said. “When he put me in there, he told me to get one yard and I told him, ‘I got it.’ ”
As much as Montgomery believed Summers, he admitted after the fact that he wasn’t always as cool and collected as he might have looked on the sideline after making the decisions to keep his offense on the field rather than punting the ball away or trying field goals.
“My heart was probably racing a little too much in the first half, going for it three times on fourth down in one half,” Montgomery said. “You just want to make sure you give the kids the best opportunity to win.”