The decision was a no-brainer, really.
Considering the loss of life, property and electricity throughout Eastern North Carolina in the wake of Hurricane Matthew and the threat of further devastation from rivers and lakes that are still in the process of rising, there was no way ECU could have — or should have — played its home football game against Navy on Thursday.
But then, even the most obvious courses of action aren’t always taken when money and a certain four-lettered television network are involved. Just ask the ACC, which despite deplorable conditions caused by a killer storm bombarding our state, decided to risk the safety of its participants and fans by playing games at N.C. State, North Carolina and Duke as scheduled Saturday.
It should be noted that the decision to postpone Thursday’s game was made much easier by the fact that both ECU and Navy coincidentally had the same bye week, making the logistics of rescheduling nearly seamless. But that doesn’t change the fact that athletic director Jeff Compher and his school’s administration should be congratulated for having the foresight and courage to make the right choice and put recovery ahead of recreation.
Football is, after all, only a game.
And yet, even though it was the right thing to do and done for all the right reasons, postponing Thursday’s game until Saturday, Nov. 19 was the best thing that could have happened to coach Scottie Montgomery and his reeling band of Pirates.
“You don’t want to say it’s a good thing with everything going on,” Montgomery said on Tuesday. “But it’s beneficial for us right now.”
ECU would have been put at an incredibly unfair competitive disadvantage had it had been forced to play Thursday because of the difficulty it had in getting home from last Saturday’s loss at South Florida.
An already short week of preparation promised to get even shorter when the Pirates’ team plane was diverted to Richmond because of the storm, forcing them to make the rest of the trip by bus. They only made it as far as Roanoke Rapids before the hurricane-force winds and torrential rain forced them to spend the night. The team didn’t get back to campus until midday Sunday.
Once there, Montgomery and his administrative staff had to concentrate on finding alternate housing for 26 players that live in low-lying areas in danger of flooding.
By the time all was said and done, the team would have had less than three days to devise and install a game plan, then prepare to execute it against a team coming an upset of then-sixth ranked Houston.
The fact that Navy runs a triple-option attack that has traditionally given ECU fits under the best of circumstances only made the potential task all the more daunting.
“I don’t want to say we didn’t want to play the game, because we want to get back out on the field and have an opportunity to show the world what kind of team we really are,” senior cornerback Dashaun Amos said. “But because we still get to play the game later in the year and we didn’t lose a game, we’re not that mad about it.
“Not only does it give us more of a chance to prepare better, we also get a little more rest on our bodies. That’s also another positive.”
Chief among those recovering physically is quarterback Philip Nelson, who was knocked out of his second straight game with an undisclosed upper body injury after being sacked in the third quarter at USF.
Montgomery said Nelson likely would not have been available had the Navy game been played on Thursday. Now that he has another full week to rest and recover, he’ll have a much better chance of playing at Cincinnati on Oct. 22.
Almost as important as the physical healing is the opportunity ECU has been given to regroup and regain some of the confidence that has been shaken by its unsightly and unexpected four-game losing streak. Montgomery and his staff can also spend extra time at practice working to correct glaring problems on their kick and punt coverage teams, as well as shoring up a defense that has taken a major step back since its strong early start.
Despite its current 2-4 record (0-2 in the AAC), there’s still plenty of time left to turn things around and win the six games necessary for bowl eligibility. Though the circumstances are the worst imaginable, the Pirates have been given the best possible scenario for making that turnaround happen.
“We don’t like negative events,” Amos said. “But any kind of negative event is a bonding thing for us. We look to each other for comfort and help.”
Just as the community around them is doing in the face of a much more serious, real-life crisis.