A season-opening football game between East Carolina and N.C. State took place with relative frequency between 1973 and 1987. The Pirates started their season seven times in Raleigh during that span with a 3-4 record.
ECU played its first game in the Mike Houston coaching era at Carter-Finley Stadium in 2019 and the Wolfpack prevailed, 34-6.
When the Pirates start the 2022 season on Saturday, Sept. 3, at noon, State will be the season-opening opponent at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium for the first time.
The Pack leads the series, 18-13, but ECU is 3-1 in games played in Greenville.
The last time
Houston’s debut at ECU on Aug. 31, 2019, was an improvement on a 58-3 loss to the Wolfpack in Raleigh to close the 2018 season. The 2019 matchup had a promising start for the Pirates.
“Opening drive we came out and had a great drive,” said Houston in his first postgame news conference as ECU coach. “Moving the ball down the field. We were on the goal line going in. We’ve got to control the ball all the way through the end zone. They don’t give any ribbons for coming close.”
The Pirates lost the early momentum when quarterback Holton Ahlers, then a sophomore, had the ball knocked loose at the N.C. State 2-yard line by Tanner Ingle. Jarius Morehead recovered in the end zone for the Wolfpack.
Matthew McKay completed 25 of 37 passes for 308 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions for the Pack.
State finished with a 505-269 lead in total yards.
“We’ve got to take today and build on it,” Houston said in 2019. “We play them again in three years. We won’t be the same team.”
Houston has kept his word.
A roster overhaul, staff changes, intense recruiting and a culture change under his leadership produced a 7-5 record in 2021, ECU’s first winning record since 2014.
State also has ascended since the 2019 team lost its last six games and finished 4-8.
The Pack is coming off a 9-3 season that wrapped up with a 34-30 come-from-behind win over UNC in Raleigh. Like the Pirates, who were supposed to meet Boston College in the Military Bowl, State had its bowl contest with UCLA in San Diego called off due to COVID issues with the opponent.
State has Devin Leary returning at quarterback. Leary threw for 3,433 yards and 35 touchdowns in 2021 with just five interceptions. The offense has seven starters back but lost its left tackle (Ikem Ekwonu), top two rushers (Zonovan Knight and Ricky Person Jr.) and most productive receiver (Emeka Emezie).
The Pack has 10 starters back on a defense that allowed just 19.7 points per game, 16th nationally. Among those is Ingle, the game changer three years ago, at strong safety.
State is expected to come to Greenville with a Top 25 ranking.
The renewal of the regional rivalry with the Wolfpack will be shown on ESPN.
College Game Day is expected to originate from Columbus, Ohio, on Saturday of Labor Day weekend with Ohio State hosting Notre Dame for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff. The State-ECU game likely will generate some panel discussion.
The Pirates closed 2021 with an appearance on national television (ABC) with a 35-13 loss to No. 4 Cincinnati in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
ECU has nonconference games at home against Old Dominion on Saturday, Sept. 10, and Campbell on Saturday, Sept. 17. Both of those tilts are slated for 6 p.m. kickoffs and will be shown on ESPN+.
The Pirates play their first four games of 2022 at home, including the American Athletic Conference opener against Navy on Sept. 24.
ECU’s fourth nonconference game will be Friday, Oct. 28, at 8 p.m. at Brigham Young. The Pirates play at Cincinnati the following Friday at 7:30 p.m. Both of those contests will be on ESPN2.
ECU will host ODU after the Monarchs play Virginia Tech in Norfolk on Friday, Sept. 2, at 7 p.m. (ESPNU).
The Pirates lead the series, 3-0, with a 24-21 road win in the last meeting in 2019.
The Monarchs have 11 starters back on offense from a 6-7 team that was 5-3 in Conference USA. Sophomore Hayden Wolff returns at quarterback for a unit that averaged 27.6 points. Notre Dame transfer Brendon Clark may figure in the quarterback picture along with senior D.J. Mack Jr.
Blake Watson is back after running for 1,112 yards in 2021.
ODU moves to the Sun Belt Conference this season.
Campbell is the lone Football Championship Subdivision program that ECU will face in 2022. The Camels were 3-8 overall and 2-5 in the Big South Conference in 2021, playing the bulk of the season after quarterback Hajj-Malik Williams was injured.
Williams averaged 54 yards rushing and 165.5 yards passing during a 2020 season in which the Camels played just four games — all on the road against Football Bowl Subdivision teams — due to COVID.
Campbell will host The Citadel and travel to William & Mary before coming to Greenville.
Former Carolina Panthers safety Mike Minter will be in his 10th season as coach of the Camels.
East Carolina’s first win ever on the gridiron came on Nov. 11, 1933, at home against Campbell, 6-0.
The Pirates’ last nonconference opponent in the 2022 regular season went 10-3 in 2021 with a 31-28 loss to Alabama Birmingham in the Independence Bowl. Quarterback Jaren Hall returns for BYU, which averaged 33.1 points last season. The offense had a balance with averages of 188.5 yards rushing and 264.1 yards passing.
This will be the Cougars’ last season as an independent before joining the Big 12.
Eight starters are back on offense and 10 on defense for BYU, which visits Liberty six days before hosting the Pirates, who will be coming off an AAC game at home against Central Florida on Oct. 22.