GREENVILLE — There’s no place like home and, for East Carolina, there’s no occasion like homecoming.
For the second straight season under second-year coach Scottie Montgomery, the Pirates were decisive winners at the alumni gathering as they followed up on a 41-3 win over Connecticut last year by turning back Brigham Young 33-17 on Saturday night.
The homecoming triumphs represent half of ECU’s wins in the Montgomery era. The Pirates extended their winning streak at homecoming to 12 games.
“We were in a hotel all day today,” Montgomery said. “I got back really late last night from recruiting. As I was coming back in, I got like a million texts. ‘We’re in town, Coach. Have a great game tomorrow.’ This is former players, alumni. Then when I got to the hotel, so many faces that I get a chance to see throughout the year, whether I’m on the road or here. I got a chance to see a lot of people.
“The energy that they brought to our kids, when they saw them, former players especially — they were all hugging our players. It was like they were getting a chance to go out and play again with some of our players. It was good to have some of our former players in the locker room after the game, before the game and just the feeling of everyone coming back home.
“Everybody was together despite this or that. Everybody was pulling and serving our colors. This was just a great overall feeling for me. As good as I’ve felt here was right before we kicked the ball off, not only because of the week of practice that we had but just because of how our fan base came out even though every thing that we’ve gone through. I really respect that. I haven’t had that anywhere we’ve been before. That was truly special.”
A crowd of 38,835 had dwindled significantly by the end of the nonconference contest. This time that was a good thing, a contrast to the stark stands at the end of a 34-10 loss to Temple in the previous home game on Oct. 7.
Fourth-quarter touchdown passes from backup quarterback Gardner Minshew to Trevon Brown covering 26 yards and Quay Johnson for nine yards extended ECU’s lead to 33-10 and many took advantage of the margin to try to beat the traffic.
Minshew came in for Thomas Sirk in the third quarter after the graduate transfer from Duke sustained what was initially diagnosed as a right elbow contusion. Sirk and the Pirates have an open date to recover before visiting Houston on Nov. 4. The open date moved when ECU visited Connecticut for a 41-38 win on Sept. 24, a schedule adjustment that allowed the Huskies to reschedule a postponed game with South Florida.
The Pirates improved to 2-6 overall while BYU slipped to 1-7.
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ECU evened the series with the Cougars at 1-1 after losing 45-38 in Provo, Utah ,on Oct. 10, 2015. The Pirates will travel to BYU in 2022 and host the Cougars again in 2024.
Senior receiver Davon Grayson atoned for a lost fumble in the previous meeting at BYU with 10 catches for 164 yards. Senior receiver Jimmy Williams was out with a lower back issue.
“It was a bang-bang play the last time that we went there,” Grayson said. “That’s been burning me for a long time. It felt good to go execute and have some big plays.”
The Big 12 officiating crew cited ECU for just two penalties for 15 yards. That was a source of pride for Montgomery, who has been working to get the Pirates to perform with greater discipline.
The defense had its best numbers of the season, allowing 319 yards and 17 points. BYU’s first score came after ECU’s only turnover — at the Pirates’ 28-yard line.
Jake Verity swung an accurate foot, hitting his fourth field goal of the game with 1:07 left in the third quarter for a 19-10 ECU lead. He moved into a share of the field goals in a game school record done nine times previously, most recently by Warren Harvey against Tulane on Oct. 12, 2013.
A 42-yarder by Verity put ECU ahead to stay at 13-10 with 13:01 left in the third quarter.
“I’d rather be 4-for-4, 100 percent, than 5-for-10, 50 percent, because what we need is consistency,” Verity said. “I wanted to get them for the team. We talked about going 5-0 and going to a bowl.”
ECU needs to win out to reach the six-game plateau for bowl eligibility.
The first points for the Pirates came on a 4th-and-goal situation at the BYU 1-yard line as Sirk found a seam on the left side and got into the end zone with 3:09 left in the third quarter, allowing ECU to tie the score at 7.
The Cougars got on the board first on a 12-yard touchdown pass from Tanner Mangum to Micah Simon for a 7-0 lead on Rhett Almond’s conversion kick with 6:52 remaining in the first quarter after the Pirates lost a fumble at their 28.
Sirk was 14 for 21 for 177 yards. Minshew finished 6 for 9 for 121 yards.
The quarterbacks conferred briefly before Minshew came in.
“He’s like my brother,” Minshew said. “He just said, ‘Win.’ That’s what it’s all about.”
The Pirates have some time to rest and prepare for a happy ending to the 2017 season.
“We’ve got time for everyone to heal up,” Grayson said. “It feels good right now. Everybody is happy. We’ve got to continue to stay positive and everything will take care of itself.”
Dr. Cecil Staton, ECU chancellor, liked what he saw.
“It was a lot of fun,” Staton said. “A lot of energy, great for the team. Great for the fans. I couldn’t be more pleased. … Obviously, you’re looking for a big win for homecoming. Pirate Nation got that tonight.”
Jes Knappen says
Four quarters of total team effort; offense, special teams, defense (still “defense-light” but improved). In truth, ECU beat a not very good, injury riddled team, but perhaps it’s what the Dr. ordered to get the Pirates back on track.