GREENVILLE — Considering some of the Peach Bowl heroes from the 1991 East Carolina team were back in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Saturday, a comeback win over N.C. State was appropriate.
The current Pirates didn’t trail by as large a margin as the silver anniversary crew did in Atlanta when they rallied from a 34-17 deficit to win, 37-34, on a 22-yard scoring pass to Luke Fisher from Jeff Blake.
Former ECU coach Bill Lewis, who guided the Pirates to an 11-1 record in 1991 before heading to Georgia Tech, was interviewed by Bonesville’s Brian Bailey just after the Wolfpack had taken a 13-12 lead.
After the interview, Blake and Fisher did a less-strenuous reprise of the winning toss.
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ECU 33, NCSU 30 | Sept. 10, 2016
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Lewis spoke to the 2016 team Friday
“What he told them is, ‘This is your team,'” said first-year coach Scottie Montgomery, who guided ECU to its sixth straight win over an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent. “That 1991 team was a big-time team. They all told us the same thing, each guy that came in — ‘We held each other accountable. Our coaches held us accountable but we held each other accountable.’
“Those guys are winners. I mean they’re winners in life. You can tell how many successful people came out of that group. That was because Coach Lewis, he pushed them to be winners away from the field and on the field. They had a big impact on today with our kids.
“Our kids really respect guys that come back, former players that have nothing but positive to say about their experience — how much Greenville and how much eastern North Carolina means to them and how much East Carolina means to them.”
The Pirates took a 12-0 lead but had to come back three times for a 33-30 win.
Anthony Scott got the final go-ahead score on a 5-yard run. The 5-feet, 9-inch, 189-pound junior blasted through the beefy interior of the State defense with 5:49 to play, completing an 84-yard drive that took 14 plays.
“My running backs coach [Antonio King] is always telling us ‘the lowest man always wins,'” Scott said. “When I got the ball, I just lowered my pads and got low as I could and kept my feet moving. Once I made the cut, I just went straight forward.”
Quay Johnson had 13 catches for 75 yards as ECU improved to 2-0 going into a 4 p.m. start at South Carolina on Saturday.
“Our confidence came to another level today and it showed,” Johnson said.
Zay Jones had seven catches for 73 yards. He has significant insight on the 1991 Pirates since his dad, Robert Jones, was an All-America linebacker on that team and Blake is his uncle.
“They provided a lot of inspiration,” Jones said. “They paved the way for us. They showed us how to do it. We ultimately went out there and got it done today.”
The Pirates had to seal matters on defense, as they did in Atlanta 25 years ago and as they did in 2010 for a 33-27 win in overtime when Damon Magazu, now an ECU graduate assistant, intercepted State’s Russell Wilson for the victory.
“Everybody has to focus and finish the game,” said sophomore field corner Corey Seargent. “Everybody is on their Ps and Qs, guarding their man, sticking their zone and finishing.”
DaShawn Benton and Travon Simmons were credited with tackling State’s Bra’Lon Cherry of New Bern at the ECU 24 after a 22-yard gain as time expired. The Wolfpack moved 38 yards from its 38 in the last 51 seconds. Ryan Finley completed 20 of 31 passes for 254 yards with one touchdown and no picks for the Pack.
As the 1991 crew provided some direction as ECU improved to 3-1 at home against the Pack, so might Saturday’s outcome influence a future generation of Pirates. Scott knew it was a big weekend for potential ECU players.
“We had to show that we could go out there and get a win versus a big team in a big situation so they could come here and want to be a part of great wins whenever they get here,” Scott said.
Pirate quarterback Philip Nelson completed 33 of 43 passes for 297 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
James Summers made a determined 15-yard touchdown run for a 26-23 ECU lead after Nelson left the game briefly after a personal foul late hit by the visitors. Summers had a 27-yard touchdown run in the first quarter that helped the Pirates to a 12-0 lead, along with two field goals from Davis Plowman.
“I just lost my breath a little bit,” Nelson said.
Nelson has seen his share of big crowds in the Big Ten as a starter at Minnesota in 2012 and 2013. The experience of facing the Wolfpack on Hall of Fame and Letterwinners weekend gave him some perspective on ECU’s tradition.
“Absolutely,” Nelson said. “When Coach [Lewis] got up there and talked to us, I’m a big wisdom guy. I love getting wisdom and he dropped a lot of it on us. He’s been there, done that.
“I’m always interested in listening to guys like that. I did feel like I got closer with this program.”