GREENVILLE — David Blackwell admitted to some mixed emotions after Trace Christian got free for a 22-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter to give the Gold team a 21-14 win over Purple in East Carolina’s spring football game at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Saturday.
Blackwell, a former Pirate player and assistant, was head coach of the Gold, but he is also ECU’s new defensive coordinator.
“Coach Mo (Scottie Montgomery) caught me twice coaching the Purple defense from the Gold sideline,” Blackwell said. “It’s hard to take the defense out of the defensive coordinator.
“I was happy to win the game. I was hoping we would kick a field goal to win the game. I didn’t want us to score.”
Blackwell laughed at the situation, but you can bet he will be pulling for the offense to score as many points as possible beginning with the season opener at home against North Carolina A&T on Sept. 1.
Montgomery hit on a formula for the finale to spring practice this year that had everybody in the program involved and committed. Instead of first unit offense against first unit defense and twos vs. twos, etc., a draft was held during the week leading up to the Purple-Gold clash. Montgomery didn’t disclose what was at stake, but a lot of investment was evident on both sidelines.
“It is a true function of better depth,” Montgomery said of the format. “We couldn’t have done this last year or the year before. What we had is a lot more people available. A lot of kids came in at the halfway point in December and they were ready to play.
“Their high school coaches got them ready to play and because of that we were able to do it. The competitive nature that you saw between the Gold and the Purple — they didn’t want to lose this game for a lot of reasons. I was glad to see a lot of our guys that no one ever heard of get a chance — that were redshirted last year — make some plays.”
The talent that Montgomery stockpiled last year during a 3-9 season may emerge like an ace in the hole, especially if Christian is a typical example. His decisive bolt to the East end zone was his third touchdown of the afternoon. That’s a nice consolation prize for offensive coordinator Tony Petersen, the Purple coach.
Christian finished with 97 yards on 15 carries. He had scoring runs of 1 and 4 yards to give the Gold a 14-7 lead at the half.
“We were just workin’ the body,” said Christian of his final sprint of the spring. “We decided to run the ball and it was wide open right down the middle.”
Workin’ the body is a new catch phrase for the Pirates.
“That’s Coach Mo’s saying, ever since January,” Christian said. “We’re just getting better.”
Work the body and the head will die is an approach used by boxers. Perhaps it applies to the Pirates in the cumulative sense of doing a lot of things the right way to produce desirable results.
Quarterbacks Reid Herring, Holton Ahlers and Kingsley Ifedi are all virtual newcomers. The group has thrown one collegiate pass, a 20-yarder from Herring to Trevon Brown last season for a touchdown in a 48-20 win over Cincinnati as the Pirates went 2-6 in the American Athletic Conference.
Brown, a fifth-year senior, has been at ECU longer than most of the staff, which gives him a valuable perspective. He had nine receptions for 169 yards for the Purple.
“They all bring something different,” said Brown, who had 60 catches for 1,069 yards and seven touchdowns in 2017, in summary of the quarterback corps. “Reid throws the ball on time. He has more experience. Holton runs the ball. That’s what he’s been doing since high school. Kingsley runs the ball well. They all have different assets that’s going to make them a better player.”
And on the flip side. …
“They all have something to work on,” Brown said.
It appears that Herring will go into preseason camp atop the depth chart.
“I do feel a little bit like that,” Herring said. “But like I said to the other guys, ‘You’ve still got to come and compete every day.’ The two guys behind me are busting their butts to get the job and they’re really good as well.”
Herring, a redshirt junior, completed 12 of 20 for 191 yards for the Gold. Caiden Norman completed his only pass for five yards for the Gold.
Ahlers, an early enrollee, connected on 12 of 18 passes for 205 yards. Ifedi, a redshirt freshman, was 4-for-6 for 90 yards. Ifedi drove the Purple for the tying score in the third quarter, getting the touchdown on a 2-yard keeper.
The prospect of facing the upcoming season without Gardner Minshew at quarterback doesn’t appear as daunting as when the returning starter transferred to Washington State.
“Anthony Scott (running back) and all those guys are still on the sideline,” Montgomery said. “Now you feel like your talent level is where it needs to be. It’s really, really a good feeling. That’s kind of the biggest take-away.”
Defensive back Colby Gore, who was presented two ‘Work the body’ spring practice awards for special teams and defense at halftime, is sold on the additions to the defensive staff.
“I haven’t had this much fun since high school, just being around people like that,” said the ECU junior.
Showers held off and maybe the outlook for 2018 got a little sunnier on Saturday.
ECU chancellor Dr. Cecil Staton was on the sideline for a segment of the spring game. The Biblical scholar seemed to sense the potential for a revival by the Pirates.
“It’s a lot of fun, a great tradition,” Staton said of the occasion. “It’s good to see Pirates out having a good time. … For a spring game, you can’t hope for much better than that. We’ve had good recruiting and it’s paying off a little bit. There’s a lot of optimism and hope and that’s what we all need as we prepare for the fall.”