East Carolina will recognize 20 players before their final game at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Saturday at 7 p.m. when the Pirates host Connecticut. The group has taken care of business in the classroom in addition to countless hours devoted to representing their alma mater in football.
“I’m really, really happy that it’s Senior Night for two reasons,” ECU coach Scottie Montgomery said. “The first reason is that it signals completion for our seniors and academics. Being able to graduate is such a big deal. There are so many things that can get you off the path of graduation. To be able to stick to it and work through everything and be able to graduate, that’s going to be a big deal for them.
“Second, is their sacrifice for the program. Their sacrifice in knowing they could stop and go other places. They have Instagram. They have Twitter, just like everybody else. They see the things that other programs were providing four and five years ago, three years ago. They have friends, other places that were getting this and getting that but they decided to stay here because they love Greenville and they love Pirate Nation and endure with their teammates.
“Those things, the sacrifice that goes into it, connected to the completion of their academic career or at least their undergraduate academic career is very, very important to me. So it’s just a special day. We’re going to try and go out and play really, really hard and disciplined football and get these guys a victory.”
Windy, cold conditions at Tulane
The upcoming night game could be accompanied by some brisk conditions. The Pirates finished a 24-18 loss at Tulane last week in a chilly breeze.
ECU true freshman Holton Ahlers completed only 21 of 67 passes against the Green Wave but said the wind was not a factor as far as throwing the ball.
“I didn’t think it bothered him,” Montgomery said. “It was cold. It was definitely our coldest game. Last time we played them it was pretty cold here. It’s kind of worked out to be a cold game, a cold series so far. It was windy.
“The only thing it affected sometimes was to put ourselves in a position to kick a field goal on that one end. The one that Jake (Verity) made that we got called back that was such a huge kick because he was kicking into such a strong, strong wind. You couldn’t see that probably if you were home watching it on TV, but that was a big, big, big-time kick.”
Verity connected from 49 yards late in the first half but the boot was nullified by holding.
“Holton throws it so hard and so powerful the wind doesn’t bother him as much,” Montgomery said. “I think more so he had some great throwaways, but we need to make a few more plays for him at wide receiver. He missed some throws earlier in the game. I thought some of our guys at wideout could have done a better job of fighting for that ball in the second half.”
John Young left the game after a roughing the punter penalty on Tulane in the second quarter. Verity took over those duties and had five punts inside the Green Wave 20.
“He did a good job of placing the ball,” Montgomery said. “He only gets to punt just a little bit in practice because we use John quite a bit. He just answered the bell. . . . People think the hard part is punting but you’ve also go to field every one of those snaps and be clean and be under a certain time so that the ball can get out. He stepped in there like he does it every single game, every day so we’re proud of him.”
The following two photos illustrate how effective Verity was on one punt in particular. The sequence shows Verity stepping into a punt, followed by a cluster of Pirates converging on and downing the ball deep in Tulane territory. (Photos by Al Myatt)
Young is expected to be back against UConn.
“I do think that he will be available,” Montgomery said. “He was at practice [Tuesday], moving around. We let him hold [on place kicks] and do some other things. We didn’t let him kick on Tuesday. We let him kick Wednesday and have a big day. One day of kicking isn’t too unusual for punters and then we’ll go into the game. We do have a good back-up plan as you could see last week.”
Fan support at Tulane
A healthy contingent of Pirate supporters surrounded ECU’s exit from the stadium last week in the stands and along the concourse, voicing their encouragement as the team made its way to the locker room.
“Yeah, that was great to see,” Montgomery said. “Our kids played so hard. It was just one of those games. They never gave in. We had some opportunities to make plays. Of course, our fans saw a lot of those opportunities to make plays and we didn’t make them but then we snapped back and made another play. I think they just respected the fact that Tulane was probably playing their best football of the year coming into our game. They just respected the way our guys went out and competed and we had a great chance to win there at the end, especially the drive before the final drive.
“I thought if we could have converted the catch that Trevon [Brown] had on the sideline, we would have been in the perfect position to win that game. It was a lot of support. I think a lot of people don’t understand how hard these kids work and don’t understand some of the things behind the scenes that they’re having to work through — and be able to make it and compete in a league where they are trying to catch up to some of the things, not only on the field but a lot of the things off the field a lot of people don’t know about. They’re trying to catch up. Hopefully, we’ll get there soon off the field. On the field, if they keep giving this type of effort and playing with this kind of poise and focus that they have, things will surely turn around.”
Containing run game
Tulane was averaging 221.7 yards rushing per game before playing ECU. The Pirates limited their hosts to 163 yards on 49 rushes, about 3.3 yards per carry.
“From day one of the week, I met with Coach [David] Blackwell (defensive coordinator),” Montgomery said. “I meet with all our coaches at the beginning of the morning of our game week. I kind of laid out what I expected on this is how we can win the football game. I really thought that us stopping the run had to be first and foremost.
“From there, Coach Blackwell and his staff started to game plan. As the week went on, I felt really good. On Wednesday, after Wednesday’s practice, I probably felt as good as I possibly could feel about stopping the run because our show team, they were going 100 miles per hour and our defense, they were stoning them and everybody was aligned perfectly. We just didn’t have many mental errors whatsoever in the second day of practice, which is still a time when you’re still cleaning up stuff. So I started feeling really confident about the way we played against the run game. I thought that we put together a good game plan and we got it stopped.
“Early in the game, I thought the fourth down stop was huge. One of the more critical times in the game and people have already forgotten about it — is we got a fourth down stop and then our offense got the ball, created an explosion play and created another explosion play that was a touchdown on the reverse that I put in early in the week.
“It just hurt us so badly right there to not get the touchdown (an illegal block nullified the score). We got points (field goal) off the turnover on downs there, but we didn’t get the touchdown and it was all about the Pirates. That would have given our defense even more juice, especially after stopping that major run right there after fourth down.”
Points taken off board
ECU had 10 points taken off the scoreboard. The Pirates generally are a disciplined team in terms of penalties.
“No, we don’t do that,” Montgomery said. “We’ve been a really good penalty discipline team throughout it all. I had a coach tell me when I was young if you want to see if a team is well-coached or not, look at the way they rush on the extra point/field goal and you look at their penalty discipline.
“You talk about that on the flipside, you’re talking about Tulane might have had more penalties or right around the same penalties, but look at how they ended up winning the game by rushing the field goal and forcing us into a hold. So you can say that is a true statement. They rushed the field goal. They stopped us. We get the penalty and we lose the game. So it is truly penalty discipline.
“We’ve got to coach a lot better as it pertains to that. We can’t go from having three or four penalties a game to having five. That doesn’t sound like a whole lot but in those critical situations where you’re taking points off the board, it’s a whole lot.”
Keys vs. UConn
ECU (2-7, 0-6 AAC) is favored by 17 points against the Huskies (1-9, 0-6).
“We’ve got to use innovative ways to run the football,” Montgomery said of the keys Saturday night. “Hopefully, we’ll have Anthony Watley (tight end) back in the lineup. We’ve got to use some innovative ways to run the football against this football team. It’s not enough just to say we’ve lost a lot of offensive linemen. Yes, we’ve lost a lot of offensive linemen. It happens from year to year. We weren’t as deep as we needed to be there. That won’t be a problem. We’re going to bring in a ton of offensive linemen, coming shortly.
“But we’ve got to find innovative ways to run the football. You’ll see some creative ways to run the football.
“Defensively, we’ve got to play a little better in our defensive secondary. I mean three plays better. Four plays better. And that’s all the time. That’s connected directly to alignment, so alignment in our defensive secondary is a key.
“And then our special teams, we’re badly needing a big play. They all can’t come from Jake Verity so those are the keys to victory. If we go out and do those things, we’ll be really successful this weekend.”