GREENVILLE, N.C. — East Carolina’s defense turned in another strong performance in the Pirates’ second and final intrasquad scrimmage Saturday morning at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. The physical contest, which featured a pair of takeaways – including an interception return for a touchdown – officially completed ECU’s 2021 preseason camp schedule.
The controlled action, played in humid conditions with temperatures in the 80’s, consisted of nearly 80 scripted plays and included all levels of the program’s current depth chart but mostly featured younger players to help third-year head coach Mike Houston and staff formalize the Pirates’ first official depth chart heading into the season opener against Appalachian State on Sept. 2 in Charlotte.
“Preseason camp is officially done, which I know the kids are excited about,” Houston said. “It is an exciting time to start camp but after three weeks they are tired of facing each other. They are ready to face another opponent. But it was a successful camp and scrimmages from the standpoint that we know what we have and where we are. We have places that will be our strength, but everybody is just excited to move on to our opening opponent.
“I thought we had a good day today. We had no serious injuries or anything like that, so we should be going into Appalachian State with a full roster. My biggest concern going into today was that we came out healthy with only twelve days till our first game.”
Starting quarterback Holton Ahlers directed ECU’s offense to its only two scores of the game, first connecting with running back Rahjai Harris on a three-yard touchdown toss before setting up Owen Daffer’s 33-yard field goal. The Pirate defense also got into the scoring column via safety Teagan Wilk’s 45-yard interception return for a TD during Ahlers’ second series of the game before C.J. Crump recovered a fumble to account for the other created turnover.
In all, East Carolina’s offensive unit tallied 222 overall yards on 74 snaps – an average of 3.0 yards per play. After managing only 65 rushing yards on 42 attempts in the first tilt a week ago, the Pirates’ ground attack bounced back with 135 yards on 41 carries Saturday (3.3 ypr). From the air, ECU’s five-man quarterback rotation combined to complete 16-of-33 passes for 87 yards and one touchdown.
Ahlers accounted for seven first downs, hit on six-of-14 throws for a game-high 43 yards while also matching Joseph McKay’s unit-best rushing numbers with 35 yards on five carries. McKay (eight attempts) and Keaton Mitchell (3-28) topped the running back corps, while Tyree Saunders (20 yards) and Andre Pegues (12) each had two grabs to lead the receiving unit. The remaining 12 catches were split among 12 different players.
Mitchell’s 28-yard dash on his first carry of the morning and a 17-yard pass play from Ryan Stubblefield to Saunders marked the Pirates’ longest plays from scrimmage.
“For the backup quarterback, we have to figure out who it is,” Houston added. “Right now, we are waiting on someone to take firm control. I think Mason has done some really good things. The other guys have done really good things as well. I think we have a really good starter, but we need to bring whoever number two is, along.”
Defensively, Suirad Ware led all tacklers with six stops, while Myles Berry, Xavier McIver and Warren Saba added four each. ECU once again applied plenty of pressure by logging 12 TFLs for -35 yards, including a trio of sacks, and recorded five pass breakups in the secondary.
In addition to Daffer’s 33-yard field goal and a pair of successful point-after tries, East Carolina’s special teams also enjoyed another strong outing by its punters as Jonn Young averaged 45.0 yards in his three boots and Luke Larsen added a 39.6 clip. Terrance Copper Jr. produced a 40-yard kickoff return in a limited contact attempt.
“I have been pleased with our specialists overall,” Houston closed out. “You saw some really good stuff today with those guys.”
The Pirates will begin their in-season afternoon practice schedule next week beginning with the first day of classes on the ECU campus Monday.