East Carolina is scheduled to recognize 14 seniors before Saturday’s 2 p.m. kickoff at home against Tulsa (ESPN+).
The group includes receiver Jaylen Johnson (No. 1), linebacker B.J. Davis (2), safety Julius Wood (4), linebacker Jack Powers (55, safety Jeremy Lewis (11), defensive lineman Eric Doctor Jr. (13), defensive back Jonathan Jones (15), offensive lineman Ryan Beckman (53), offensive lineman Keziah Everett (61), offensive lineman Owen Murphy (73), offensive lineman Walter Stribling (77), wide receiver Jarrett Garner (82), wide receiver Jsi Hatfield (88) and punter Charles “Archer” Trafford (96).
“Obviously big day for those guys,” said Pirates coach Mike Houston via Zoom on Tuesday morning. “There’s not many of them, but there’s quite a few of them that have been here for four or five years. And if you look at what has transpired in the program in that time that they were here, it’s been the program going from where it was to back-to-back bowl games the last two years.
“The Birmingham Bowl victory last December, right around New Year’s, and some very positive moments in the history of Pirate football. This season, although it has not gone the way we wanted to from the loss perspective, these players have had special careers here. And this is their last game in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. It’s their last game as a Pirate. And so obviously it’s a game that’s very important to me, not only for our program overall, but for these seniors.”
The Pirates will have a team celebration of Thanksgiving.
“The regular student body, they leave this afternoon, so there’s nobody on campus Wednesday, Thursday, Friday,” Houston said. “So, we’ll practice midday (Wednesday), go through all of our stuff with meetings and weights and all that. We’ll practice on Thursday morning and then we’ll have a Thanksgiving lunch as a team after practice Thursday.
“After that the players, they have the rest of the day off. I know that there are quite a few of their families coming into town, and so that allows them to have a Thanksgiving dinner that evening. Coaching staff-wise, we’ll finish up on Thursday and be home in time to have dinner with our families. And so at least get a little bit of time there for Thanksgiving.
“Friday is a normal Friday and Saturday’s a normal Saturday. So, it is the way it is if you’re a college football player, college coach, or a family of such, that’s at the FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) level that each year’s the same deal. But it is a time for us to pause on Thursday. We finish practice and I’ll focus on what I’m thankful for and what we all are thankful for with the program and each other. And we will have some time for that.”
Early runs for Navy
Host Navy topped ECU, 10-0, on Saturday. The Midshipmen used a run of 39 yards by quarterback Xavier Arline to set up the only touchdown on an 18-yard run by Alex Tezla with 2:47 left in the first quarter.
“We botched both those plays,” Houston said. “It was misfits and that happens sometimes early in the ball game against them because the speed that you try to get going during practice and the speed that they execute at, two different speeds.
“A false step here, a false step there, and that’s what results in the long plays. But I thought we made some adjustments and settled down. They gave us some new elements, so we were literally, it’s the same thing every year with Navy. You’re making adjustments in game and thankfully our players did a good job with that. So, we were able to settle in after that and really only the one stutter and go pass play was the only other big play we had all day, and we were able to get a stop on that drive. So, we did settle down after that first score and played pretty well for the balance of the day defensively.”
Finding an OC
After agreeing to part ways with offensive coordinator Donnie Kirkpatrick on Sunday, Houston outlined the process of putting a successor in place.
Kirkpatrick will coach through the game with Tulsa.
“I do plan on starting interviews next week,” Houston said. “I do think the process will go very, very fast. I’ve got to do my due diligence with vetting whomever we interview because we have to get somebody in place to work with our current players. I want them to start building a relationship before the players go home (for Christmas)..
“We have a very talented offensive recruiting class committed that we want to get signed on December 20th. And so I want whoever’s the new offensive coordinator to have time to get to know those recruits.
“And obviously the transfer portal is open here in about a week and a half. I think it’s important for us to be very aggressive in that area over the next month and a half. By mid-January I want to have our roster and our coaching staff completely solidified so that we can have a great spring and get us back where we want to be as far as a wins on the scoreboard perspective as a program.”
ECU (2-9, 1-6 American Athletic Conference) and Tulsa (3-8, 1-6 AAC) have had similar seasons in terms of records.
“They’ve found some stability offensively the last couple of weeks,” Houston said. “They have a young quarterback (freshman Kirk Francis) that’s playing very well. They’ve been able to run the football effectively all year. And so the combination is they’ve given themselves great chances to win against really good teams the last couple of weeks.”
North Texas topped the host Golden Hurricane, 35-28, last week. Tulsa was edged, 24-22, at No 23 Tulane the previous week.
“It’s going to be a challenge on Saturday,” Houston said. “It’s going to be a game that our players are going to be very excited about playing. They’re very motivated and focused on getting a win this weekend to finish the season on a positive note and send our seniors out with a positive memory. It should be a heck of a ball game.”
Dealing with defeat
In coaching stops at Lenoir-Rhyne, The Citadel and James Madison, Houston has never had a losing season after a winning season.
He’s dealing with that situation at the present time as the Pirates were 8-5 in 2022.
“Well, it ain’t a whole lot of fun,” said the Pirates coach, “I’ll be honest with you, it’s not what I expect. It’s not what I’m accustomed to and I’m not going through it again. We’ll get it fixed.”
Seeking passer in the portal
Houston was asked if the Pirates would be looking for a quarterback in the transfer portal.
“Yes,” he said.
Potent Pirates have streak at home
ECU’s scoring streak ended at 322 games at Navy, but the Pirates have a scoring streak that remains intact.
Chronologically, it’s older than the recently ended overall scoring streak.
The last time ECU was shut out at home was Sept. 8, 1984, in a 17-0 loss to Temple.
By my calculations, that’s 197 games.
Hopefully, the seniors and Coach Kirkpatrick keep that one going Saturday.