Defense has edge in initial ECU scrimmage

ECU Pirates

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GREENVILLE, N.C. — A physical defensive unit tallied 13 tackles for lost yardage, recorded a pair of takeaways and shut down the big play to highlight East Carolina’s first intra-squad scrimmage of preseason camp Saturday morning at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

ECU photo gallery from Saturday’s scrimmage

The controlled contest, which was played under mostly clear skies with temperatures in the low-90’s, consisted of nearly 90 plays and included all levels of the program’s current depth chart.

“I saw a lot of good stuff, a lot of improvement,” head coach Mike Houston said. “We have been seeing it in practice but is good to see it in this setting. We came out injury free, so I am always happy when that happens.”

In all, the Pirate offense was limited to an average of just 2.3 yards per snap after picking up 194 total yards on 86 attempts but did account for three touchdowns and three field goals.

Starting quarterback Holton Ahlers engineered scoring drives in three of his six possessions before finishing with a 14-of-21, 56-yard passing performance. He connected with Cam Burnette on a four-yard scoring toss on his second drive and successfully converted a pair of two-point opportunities with completions to Shane Calhoun and Keaton Mitchell.

The ECU rushing attack, led by Mitchell’s seven-carry, 29-yard, 1-touchdown outing, was held to 65 yards on 42 attempts (1.5 ypr). Newcomer Joseph McKay added 23 yards on eight totes and contributed the Pirates’ other TD with a nine-yarder to close out the scoring. Mitchell’s 13-yard run and a pair of 13-yard receptions by Calhoun and Andre Pegues marked East Carolina’s longest plays from scrimmage during the tilt.

Defensively, Teylor Jackson topped all tacklers with six stops, while Aaron Ramseur, Warren Saba and Xavier Smith added five each. Jeremy Lewis recorded the game’s only interception, Cruz Temple forced and recovered a fumble, and lineman Elijah Morris made an entry into the scoring column by sacking Ahlers in the endzone for a safety.

The Pirates’ quintet of quarterbacks combined on a 26-of-44, 129-yard performance as Alex Flinn complemented Ahlers’ effort by completing six-of-eight throws for 39 yards. On the receiving end, Maceo Donald led all pass catchers with five grabs for 11 yards.

“I thought that our defensive line and linebackers played really aggressive from the very first snap,” Houston added. “They played with a lot of energy and physicality. Offensively, I thought that Holton did some really good things and it is always good to have your quarterback playing well. I really want to look at the film to get a good gauge on the other players.”

ECU’s special teams benefitted from a strong performance by its various squads. Carson Smith successfully knocked through 40 and 43-yard field goal attempts before Owen Daffer added a game-high 46-yarder. Punters Jonn Young and Luke Larsen averaged 44.0 and 43.3 yards per boot, respectively, while Warren Saba turned in a 50-plus yard punt return before the play was blown dead by the officiating crew.

After an off-day Sunday, the Pirates will open their third week of camp Monday morning.

“This next week is a huge week,” Houston explained. “The improvement we make right now between today and next Saturday is going to be critical, because after next Saturday we are on to App. State.”

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