MORGANTOWN, WV — Scottie Montgomery is a persuasive person, which no doubt makes him an effective recruiter. There are still players that he helped bring into the Duke program, which dealt Northwestern a 41-17 defeat on Saturday.
Montgomery’s skills must have influenced ECU athletic director Jeff Compher when the Pirate football head coaching position was most recently vacant.
Compher hired the Blue Devil offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach after the 2015 season.
The Pirates went 3-9 overall last year and 1-7 in the American Athletic Conference.
Montgomery and a retooled staff got busy on the recruiting trail and had many believing that this season would be better. It hasn’t happened yet, but perhaps ECU (0-2) had something to build on following a 56-20 loss at West Virginia (1-1) on Saturday.
East Carolina won the coin toss for the second straight week, this time electing to defer its option to the second half. By the time the Pirates utilized their choice, it didn’t matter. West Virginia had a 49-3 lead after the first 30 minutes.
The Pirates didn’t load the bus at halftime and to their credit made a more respectable showing after intermission. That’s a positive because a team that quits can’t help itself.
ECU reduced the final margin with the help of a 95-yard scoring pass from Gardner Minshew to Trevon Brown. It was the longest touchdown pass in school history, eclipsing a 91-yarder from Jeff Blake to Luke Fisher against Florida State on Sept. 8, 1990. The Seminoles won that matchup, 45-24.
Maybe Montgomery can create some optimism before ECU hosts Virginia Tech on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. East Carolina’s competitiveness will depend on which team from which half at WVU shows up at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
“Tale of two halves,” said Montgomery, who wasn’t sure which of two quarterbacks ECU might play next week.
Duke graduate transfer Thomas Sirk started and completed 16 of 34 for 191 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.
Sirk took a big hit on the scoring toss to Jimmy Williams, which covered 19 yards and pulled the Pirates within 49-13 with 7:55 left in the third quarter.
Minshew played the rest of the way, going 7 for 13 for 137 yards with the record breaker and without a pick.
The Mountaineers scored just 2:16 into the nonconference contest as Justin Crawford completed a 75-yard drive with a 5-yard run by Justin Crawford. There were no third downs on the 9-play series although there was a 1-yard tackle for a loss by Jordan Williams to bring up 2nd-and-11 at the ECU 26. The hosts responded with a 21-yard pass play from Will Grier to Kennedy McKoy.
Jordan Williams led ECU with 11 tackles and safety Tim Irvin was in on nine.
On 3rd-and-15 on ECU’s first possession, Sirk hit Jimmy Williams for a 27-yard gain. After an 8-yard toss to Quay Johnson, Tyshon Dye ran six yards for a first down. The Pirates went for a 4th-and-3 and converted with a 5-yard toss to Deondre Farrior.
A pass interference put the Pirates at the WVU 8. ECU settled for a 23-yard field goal by Jake Verity with 6:08 left in the first quarter to cut the Mountaineers’ lead to 7-3.
Grier, son of former ECU quarterback Chad Grier, had completions of 13 and 38 yards on WVU’s ensuing series. Grier had played against the Pitates in a 31-24 Florida win in 2015. His dad lettered at ECU in 1990.
Grier hit Ka’Raun White for a touchdown covering 7 yards with 3:50 left in the opening period for a 14-3 lead with 3:50 left in the opening period.
Grier completed 19 of 25 passes for 352 yards with five touchdowns. The Mountaineers played turnover free. WVU brought Chris Chugunov in and he completed 5 of 9 for 51 yards.
The Pirates started true freshman John Spellacy at center and moved Garrett McGhin to left guard after problems with bad snaps in a season-opening 34-14 loss at home last week to defending Football Championship Subdivision playoff winner James Madison.
Tyshon Dye, who didn’t get a carry last week, led the Pirates with 14 rushes for 71 yards.
“The second half was totally different,” Montgomery said. “At halftime, we challenged them. You always challenge them before games, too, but every single person has to do their job every play.”
Jimmy Williams had seven catches for 86 yards for ECU. Davon Grayson made five receptions for 76 yards. Brown’s two grabs accounted for 103 yards.
“We were able to get our playmakers the ball a lot more,” Montgomery said.
The ECU coach also credited Grier’s performance, including his ability to make adjustments to the defense at the line of scrimmage.
“He was extremely accurate,” Montgomery said. ” . . . I thought he was as effective as any quarterback we’ve played against in a long time.”
The Pirates made adustments to get more pressure on Grier in the second half after he completed 16 of 22 for 329 yards and four touchdowns before the locker room break.
ECU outscored the hosts, 17-7, in the second half and the Pirates left with their heads up.
“We obviously had that game in hand at halftime, which is rare in college football,” said Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen. “It was a little sloppy in the second half but we were able to play a lot of people. That will be good for building depth going forward.”
West Virginia led 619-470 in total yardage. JMU was ahead 614-362 in total yards in week one.
“Defensively, we didn’t show up at all,” Montgomery said. “At times, it was like we were playing with 10 people out there.”