East Carolina may have been knocked out in the first round of the conference relocation game being conducted by the Big 12 Conference, but it is obvious the Pirates are on a mission to prove something on the football field this season.
Coming off Saturday’s 33-30 victory over North Carolina State, the Pirates take a 2-0 record to South Carolina to get an up-close look at the Southeastern Conference this week. First-year coach Scottie Montgomery says his players are taking everything “one day at a time.” But on Sept. 24, ECU travels to Blacksburg, Va., to take on Virginia Tech – another Atlantic Coast Conference team.
The Pirates were mocked across the country when they made it well known they wanted out of the American Athletic Conference and a spot in the Big 12. But on Aug. 31 they were part of the first cut made by the Big 12 search committee.
“We do understand the importance [of these games] because we think we play … we do play in a big-time conference,” said Montgomery, a North Carolina native who played at Duke and in the NFL. “We also understand how important it is for our kids who have worked so hard when we get to these big-time opportunities and games, to play well.
“At the same time, there’s this part of us that’s human that says we have this chip on our shoulder because of not being selected, because of some of the things that may be said about us leading up to the game – not by the opponent – but just all the naysayers around college football for what are perceived as not Power Five teams.”
Montgomery came to ECU in December after coaching with the Pittsburgh Steelers and spending the past three years on the staff at Duke.
Against North Carolina State, quarterback Phillip Nelson threw for 297 yards and a touchdown and James Summers added two rushing touchdowns. The Pirates have won six straight against ACC opponents. And the crowd of 50,719 was the second-largest in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium history.
“I think our guys played as hard as we could have imagined them being able to play,” Montgomery said. “As the moved through the game, we tightened some things up and made adjustments at halftime. I was very proud that our fourth quarter was our best quarter.”
“It’s a big win but I think it’s a lot bigger for maybe some people that are not in the [football] building. Our kids are just focused on putting together a good stretch of games against quality opponents in big-time environments.”
Montgomery may be in his rookie season as a head coach but understands the important things. Since the win, he has repeatedly mentioned the importance of the game in terms of recruiting. The Pirates cover North Carolina from “one side of the state to the other side of the state.”
On Monday, he said, “The first thing we want to do is get this state.” Montgomery considers ECU’s footprint to run from Virginia Beach to the coast of Florida. If the Pirates are ever able to expand that territory, the Big 12 might really regret its decision.
“Pirate Nation was probably the biggest recruiter we had here this weekend,” Montgomery said. “When win a game like that it gives your players energy. It gives them energy to recruit after the game too. It was a good game for recruiting.”
Storm delay may have helped Houston
The Houston Cougars overcame a summer of hype to defeat No. 3 Oklahoma in the season opener. Prognosticators then said Houston wouldn’t be challenged again until their matchup with Louisville on Nov. 17.
Houston crushed Lamar 42-0 this past Saturday, but it wasn’t as easy as it looked. A couple of strange situations had to be handled. And coach Tom Herman was proud of his team’s ability to handle both.
The Cougars went into the game knowing they would be without injured quarterback Greg Ward Jr. The second curveball, however, was totally unexpected. The game was delayed by weather for 3 hours and 36 minutes.
“We train for that kind of chaos,” Herman told reporters after the game.
Weather – and staying sharp during a delay – remained a major topic on Monday during the AAC coaches teleconference call with reporters.
The first lightning strike with 3:13 left in the first quarter stopped the action. The rain came after the lightning – almost two hours later. But repeated lightning strikes kept the players off the field. Many fans had departed as well by the time the game resumed at 3:12 p.m.
“It was a long time,” Herman said Monday. “After about 30 minutes or so there was a lot more we [the coaches] could talk about, especially with the rain delay happening so early in the game.
“We let [the players] be. We let them take their pads off, take the tape off their wrists and ankles, put their headphones on; we treated it as much like a pregame as we could. Some guys even took a nap. … They relaxed, we fed them and let them chill out in the locker room.”
It seems the delay was beneficial for Ward and he has been cleared to play for the Cougars on Thursday night in their big AAC game at Cincinnati.
Both teams are 2-0. Cincinnati shares that distinction in the AAC East with East Carolina and USF. Navy joins Houston at 2-0 in the West.
Ward was treated Saturday before the 11 a.m. kickoff and threw some passes in pregame warmups, the Houston Chronicle reported. He was supposed to rest his injured right shoulder the rest of the game. But the weather problems allowed Ward to receive a second treatment, one that was scheduled for Sunday.
Ward returned to practice Sunday and was cleared to start. Ward told the Chronicle he should be able to play without limitations.
“No doubt I can go out there and just be who I am,” Ward said.
– Quinton Flowers, junior quarterback for USF, had a highly productive day against Northern Illinois and was named AAC offensive player of the week. Flowers completed 21-of-33 passes for a career-high 350 yards and four touchdowns in the 48-17 victory. He also added 53 rushing yards on 11 carriers. USFs 658 yards of offense rank second in school history. Flowers was responsible for 403 yards.
– Navy’s freshman linebacker Alohi Gilman was named AAC defensive player of the week after the Midshipmen got past UConn. Gilman led Navy with 10 tackles, had a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.
– Here’s an AAC name to remember: Mike Tyson. The senior safety for Cincinnati tied an AAC record with three interceptions to spark the Bearcats to their 38-20 victory at Purdue. Those interceptions led to 21 Cincinnati points and that was fortunate since Purdue still passed for 401 yards.
– Houston didn’t allow Lamar to cross midfield in its 42-0 victory.
– Willie Fritz picked up his first win as Tulane’s first coach with a 66-21 win over Southern.
– Tulsa lost 48-3 to Ohio State; that was the fewest points for the Golden Hurricane since a 45-0 loss to Oklahoma in 2009. The Golden Hurricane also managed just 188 yards of offense, fewest since a 141-yard day against Kansas in 2004.