BLACKSBURG, VA — A year ago in Greenville, James Summers wasn’t on the Virginia Tech radar in Frank Beamer’s final season as Hokies coach.
The junior college transfer emerged as a secret weapon with 21 carries for 169 yards and two touchdowns in a 35-28 ECU win.
Summers had joined the Pirates during preseason camp as a receiver in 2015 but shifted to quarterback, where he was a highly-recruited player in high school, after an injury knocked projected starter Kurt Benkert out for the season.
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Virginia Tech 54, ECU 17 | Sept. 24, 2016
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Virginia Tech was well prepared for Summers and the rest of the Pirates in a 54-17 homecoming win at Lane Stadium on Saturday.
“First, I take my hat off to Virginia Tech,” said first-year East Carolina coach Scottie Montgomery. “That was clearly the best football team we have played, the most physical, the biggest, the fastest, the strongest, the smartest. They competed well in their schemes and played great, emotional football.”
ECU had topped the Hokies 28-21 in 2014 in Blacksburg after a 33-23 loss at South Carolina but the Pirates weren’t able to notch their their seventh straight win against an ACC opponent. The contest was shown on the ACC Network.
Virginia Tech made the ECU game its homecoming with an apparent lack of options in the selection process.
The Hokies have an open date next week before trips to North Carolina (Oct. 8) and Syracuse (Oct. 15). Virginia Tech hosts Miami (FL) on Oct. 20 before road contests at Pittsburgh (Oct. 27) and Duke (Nov. 5). Between choosing the Pirates or the Hurricanes as the homecoming foe, Virginia Tech picked ECU.
The Pirates played the role like a typically-outmanned opponent. The touchdown that put the Hokies over the 50-point plateau came after an unsuccessful punt by ECU that set the hosts up on the Pirates’ 15-yard line.
The call was for a running punt but Montgomery said a breakdown in communication allowed the Hokies to get to Worth Gregory.
Virginia Tech was good enough to win convincingly without ECU’s assistance.
The Hokies appear much more dynamic offensively under new coach Justin Fuente without losing anything defensively with Bud Foster continuing to call the shots for that unit.
As was the case in the Beamer era, special teams are still special for the Hokies, whose first score came on an 87-yard punt return by Greg Stroman.
To recognize Beamer and keep him connected to the program, one player is designated each week to wear the No. 25, which Beamer wore as a Virginia Tech player. Stroman had that distinction against ECU.
“Huge honor,” Stroman said. ” . . . Great blocking [on the scoring return]. It was the most room I have ever seen on a return. I saw guys on the ground. Everyone was pinned. Great blocking by my teammates.”
Stroman’s open field wizardry gave the Hokies a 7-0 lead with 10:38 left in the first quarter.
Virginia Tech also blocked an ECU field goal on the Pirates’ best scoring chance in the first half. The Pirates were down 38-0 at intermission.
“We just talked about doing our job,” said ECU quarterback Philip Nelson, who had a 75-yard touchdown pass play to Jimmy Williams on the first possession of the second half. “We didn’t do our jobs in the first half.”
Williams also was on the receiving end of a 70-yard pass play from Nelson to get the Pirates within 47-14 with 3:17 left in the third quarter.
The long strikes did not mean ECU has resolved the red zone problems that plagued the Pirates in a 20-15 loss at South Carolina last week. ECU turned the ball over three times inside the USC 7-yard line. But the turnovers in scoring range subsided.
The Pirates were 1-for-3 in the red zone at Virginia Tech, settling for a 27-yard field goal by true freshman Jake Verity to complete the scoring with 6:32 to go.
“Jake got the ball vertical so fast,” Montgomery said.
Verity kicked both extra points after Plowman apparently sustained a foot injury on the blocked field goal in the first half. Plowman also had a field goal deflected at USC.
The Pirates coach said a number of personnel situations will be examined before ECU starts American Athletic Conference play at home Saturday with a noon game against Central Florida. Nose tackle Demetri McGill went off with an apparent leg injury.
“We’ll find out a lot in the treatment room on Sunday,” Montgomery said.
The Pirates are 2-2 with two dramatically different losses even though total yardage at Virginia Tech (443-462) was amazingly close. ECU was within striking distance for most of the game at South Carolina. The hole got too deep for a realistic comeback against the Hokies much earlier.
“We came ready on Sunday last week because we were able to point out the things that we needed to point out and fix,” Montgomery said. “Especially because they were mainly connected to how we carried and protected the football. . . . This one hurts for a lot of reasons and we are going to look at the tape. . . . We can see some things where we physically got beat. . . . We understand that that team beat us today.”
The ECU coach said the Pirates can learn from the loss.
“We better be more physical,” he said. “That’s where it all starts. Everything that you saw today had a direct connection to a team being more emotionally ready to go. More than anything else, it was a team that was more physical. …
“Physically, we have to get ourselves to play like they played throughout the entirety of the game.”