GREENVILLE — The East Carolina spring football game shaped up as offense vs. defense vs. Mother Nature. But with the forecast calling for a 70 percent chance of showers on Saturday, the green on the radar dodged Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
“The football gods love us,” said first-year Pirates coach Mike Houston.
Houston loved the fact that there were no major injuries and took note that there were no turnovers in a 71-36 win for the offense in the adjusted scoring format.
“You come out of a scrimmage like that with no major injuries, to me that’s a big positive,” Houston said. “I’m always concerned about the players’ health and safety and well-being.”
Houston saw progress during the course of 15 offseason workouts that culminated with the Purple-Gold game. Actually, the defense wore purple and the offense was attired in white.
“You look at us today versus a month ago and obviously, there’s tremendous improvement,” Houston said. “There was lots of positives on both sides. There were some negatives on both sides.
“As far as what I felt best about, I think the consistent way that our offense moved the ball was pleasing to see. We had minimal errors on that side of the ball, which was good. You look at the other side on defense, I thought we had our bright spots there as well.
“Probably the biggest negative for the defense is the biggest positive for the offense and that’s ball security. We did not force any turnovers on defense, but we did a great job of taking care of the ball on offense. … You’re happy with one side and mad about the other, but overall I thought it was a good scrimmage.”
Turnovers would have been worth four points to the defense in Saturday’s scoring system.
Holton Ahlers quarterbacked the first unit offense and was in for six of 15 possessions. He completed 10 of 19 passes for 118 yards and kept five times for 24 yards, but one of the offense’s biggest plays was an Ahlers’ handoff to Darius Pinnix on a 4th-and-2 at the plus-27 in the third quarter.
“We were in field-goal range, but I wanted to see how we would respond in that situation,” Houston said. “We had a great surge at the line of scrimmage. Pinnix, he’s a load.”
Pinnix powered for eight yards and a first down.
“Last year I don’t think we would’ve made that fourth-and-short,” Ahlers said. “I don’t think we would’ve called that play.”
The series was capped on a 7-yard scoring run by Pinnix, who heaved the ball in the stands after getting in the end zone.
“Coach Houston told him he better have been throwing it to his Mom,” Ahlers said.
Pinnix said he was just trying to energize a fan base that has become somewhat disenchanted in recent years.
Houston was hired after four consecutive losing seasons.
Reid Herring, who began the 2018 season as the starting quarterback, completed 10 of 18 for 100 yards with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Blake Proehl in the final period. Proehl, wearing a non-contact red jersey like the quarterbacks as he fully recovers from an injury, led the receivers with three catches for 69 yards. Tyler Snead had four catches for 32 yards.
Hussein Howe was the top rusher with 15 carries for 71 yards. He had an 18-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. The offense picked up 190 yards on 48 carries, an average of 4.0 yards per rush.
The offense had 426 total yards on 87 snaps.
Freshman Bryan Gagg completed both of his pass attempts for 18 yards and had an 18-yard touchdown run with 53 seconds left in the first half.
The offense pulled away from a 1-point lead at the close of the first quarter.
Aaron Ramseur led the defense with nine tackles, including two for losses.
“Defense was out there flying to the ball and offense was doing what they had to do,” said junior defensive back Davondre Robinson. “I hope we put on a good show for (the fans). … Early on, we were getting good three and outs. We’ve got to be able to display that throughout the game. At the end, we gave up some touchdowns. We didn’t want that, but we’ve got to be able to maintain (our level of play) throughout the course of the game.
“We’re learning the schemes and getting that down pat, so it was pretty good.”
If offense sells tickets and defense wins championships, ECU ought to at least win back some fans this fall.