Game week is finally here for East Carolina.
The long, hot summer unofficially ends with the Labor Day weekend and the first week of the college football season.
Pirate fans will head west to Raleigh early Saturday for the season-opening matchup with North Carolina State.
Last year the Wolfpack manhandled a broken Pirate football team in that ill-advised make-up game that replaced the Virginia Tech contest on the Pirate schedule because of Hurricane Florence.
The Pack totally dominated an ECU team with an interim coach, a backup quarterback and a team with an overall listless effort. In a rare scheduling oddity, the Pirates finished 2018 and will open 2019 in Raleigh against State.
New ECU coach Mike Houston said viewing the the film from last year’s game made him physically sick.
“I sat and watched last year’s game this morning, and it made me absolutely sick to my stomach,” said Houston. “I just, we have got to focus on improving every single day. There are some things on that field last year that are non-negotiable for me: effort, teamwork, positive enthusiasm, toughness, coming off the ball, tackling. Those are non-negotiable. We are going to do those things. Until we get to where we’re doing those things consistently every single day, we’re not where we need to be. Every single day, the entire practice, it has to be consistency.”
On the other side State coach Dave Doeren enjoyed last year’s finale. In another oddity, his Wolfpack beat Mike Houston’s James Madison team on opening day a year ago, 24-13. He finished his season with the blowout win over Houston’s current team, ECU.
“That is odd,” said Doeren as a guest on my weekly radio show on Pirate Radio 1250 and 930 [Replay the Brian Bailey Show on Pirate Radio 1250 in a new tab…] “We’ll look at film from both games to prepare for this year.”
Doeren added a little fuel to the rivalry fire after last year’s game, when he talked about the ‘Pirates’ hook.’
“I’ve been hearing that for three years since we lost to them down there,” Doeren said after that blowout win in December. “Everyone walks by and gives me that little thing that they do (Pirate hook), and I want to break it off, so I did that today. I learned a long time ago, just remember things and get even when you can. I’m motivated by a lot of things. Winning in-state every time we take the field matters.”
Doeren explained the comments with me on radio.
“I have a lot of friends who went to East Carolina and are Pirate fans,” said Doeren. “It’s all part of any rivalry.”
Doeren and his staff did a great job in the recruitment of Pirate quarterback Holton Ahlers. Ahlers chose ECU over State despite a huge push from Doeren and his staff.
Had Ahlers not had a deep sense of love for East Carolina I believe he’d be taking snaps for the home team this weekend. I thought at the time that Doeren and his staff out-recruited then-Pirate coach Scottie Montgomery and his staff for Ahler’s services.
“I have a lot of respect for Holton and his family,” said Doeren. “He is an outstanding kid and a great player.”
Ahlers sat out last year’s season finale with an injury. He’ll get the start this season in the opener.
“I’m sure he’s excited about the game,” Doeren said.
State leads the all-time series with ECU, 17-13. East Carolina handed Dave Doeren his only home non-conference loss of his career, 42-28, in 2013.
Game week is here! Coach Mike Houston meets the media on Tuesday as we get closer to kicking off this 2019 college football season.
We’ll see you in Raleigh on Saturday!