East Carolina had hoped to play the role of spoiler and in the process start building momentum for next season.
Like in so many other games, the Pirates looked good at the start in their season finale at Temple. But also like in so many games, the contest turned in the matter of a play or two. A close game turned into yet another blowout loss.
This time it was a Gardner Minshew fumble late in the first half. ECU had watched its 7-0 lead turn into a 14-7 deficit, and then Minshew coughed it up. Temple took advantage and the blowout was on.
The current problems with this Pirate football team are too many to mention in one column. The bottom line is that this team didn’t do the things necessary to win football games.
The Pirates were dead last in the nation in sacks and almost last in turnover margin. It was a defense that bent, and then broke, time after time.
The offense couldn’t run the football and failed to protect the quarterback. Philip Nelson was sidelined with a variety of ailments and Minshew took a beating in his time under center.
“It was just a hard season altogether,” Montgomery told reporters after the 37-10 loss to the Owls Saturday night. “As the year went on, Virginia Tech beat up on us a little bit (a 54-17 loss in the third week of the season) and we never really responded from that the entire year. I knew it, saw it and tried to adjust as much as we could to do the things we could. We just couldn’t get the bleeding stopped after that game.”
The frustrations mounted throughout the year. After blasting UConn 41-3 at home, the 3-5 Pirates then gave up over 50 points per game in the team’s final four contests. With the season hanging in the balance, the Pirates had no answers and limped home with a 3-9 record in Coach Montgomery’s first year.
Coach Mo said when he was hired that he wanted win championships at East Carolina. That certainly seems a long way off after all of the struggles we’ve seen this season.
“There’s no worse feeling than having to punt the ball without a chance to win,” said Montgomery. “I told our team just now the feeling that we have right now — we won’t have this feeling again. I’ll make sure of that.”
Once again the lone bright spot for the Pirates was the play of Zay Jones.
Jones had seven catches and finished his stellar campaign with an NCAA single season record of 158 receptions.
“It’s difficult because you want to celebrate some of the things that you were able to do, that you accomplished,” Jones said. “It was just such a rough season, not the way we wanted to end it. I saw a lot of pain in the eyes of some senior guys that just really hurt.”
Those seniors will say goodbye to East Carolina, and they leave with a bad taste in their mouths.
Hopefully, that bad taste lingers for the underclassman, and they work that much longer and that much harder to turn things around.
Losing seasons don’t sit well with the Pirate Nation. Football seasons are special in Greenville, but this one left a lot to be desired.
If Scottie Montgomery thought he had a challenge when he took the job, he now knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that he has to change the current culture.
Building depth through recruiting will be A-1 on the “to do” list for the Pirate coach.
I get the feeling that recruiting, spring football and summer camp can’t get here fast enough for Coach Mo.
I know it can’t get here fast enough for this reporter, either.