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GAMEDAY: Pirates eyeing another ACC win

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By Nathan Summers
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, September 24, 2016

East Carolina has perhaps never been more confident to play in Lane Stadium than the Pirates are today.

Not only does ECU enter today's 12:30 kickoff armed with two wins in two games against the host Virginia Tech Hokies, but the Pirates also have a chance to extend their Atlantic Coast Conference unbeaten streak to seven games and almost three years to the day.

The last time East Carolina (2-1) stepped into the 65,632-seat home of the Hokies (2-1), the Pirates played silencer in a 28-21 victory in 2014, then backed it up last season with a 35-28 triumph over Tech in the pouring rain in Greenville.

Trying to stop the streak will be first-year Tech coach and former Memphis boss Justin Fuente, who replaced long-standing college football fixture Frank Beamer at the end of last season.

In last year’s clash, ECU quarterback James Summers rumbled over and through VT for two touchdown runs, including a 41-yard, spinning, tackle-breaking charge late in the third quarter that was the difference.

“I always look forward to (playing on the road), plus it's V-Tech, so I'm always looking forward to V-Tech and it's going to be exciting to get out there and redeem myself,” said Summers, referring to last Saturday's 20-15 loss at South Carolina in which the ECU offense repeatedly fell flat near the Gamecock goal line and turned the ball over four times. “I want to show everybody what we can really do.”

Summers (207 rush yards, two TDs this season) is now a senior who is playing multiple roles for the Pirates and first-year head coach Scottie Montgomery. In a 33-30 win over N.C. State two weeks ago, he teamed with lead running back Anthony Scott (209 rush yds., 143 receiving yds., five total TDs) to derail the Wolfpack defense for key scores.

Scott, however, has been riddled by three fumbles in the last two games, part of a litany of miscues that Montgomery said were immediately evident on last week's game film. Those mistakes were under the microscope at ECU practice this week.

“When you lose a game like this, you can see the reasons that you lost,” Montgomery said. “Sometimes when you lose games, guys want to look around and try to find out why we lost. This week it was very clear.”

Coming off a career game at South Carolina is senior receiver Zay Jones (team-high 39 receptions, 443 yds., TD), who finished one catch shy of tying the NCAA single-game record with 22 against the Gamecocks.

Senior QB Philip Nelson (1,095 pass yds., seven TDs, three interceptions) threw his second and third picks of the season at the goal line in Columbia last week, but had been close to flawless to that point in wins over Western Carolina and the Wolfpack.

Still throwing at 78.9 percent for the season, Nelson said it was right back to the drawing board this week following his first loss as a Pirate.

“It's the 12-hour rule. You kind of sit there and think about it a little bit, you reflect and you wake up the next morning, you review it (in film study) and then you move on,” Nelson said of the loss. “Time doesn't stop. It was a big deal for us to be able to take in the teaching moments and move on.”

Joining Jones, the starting outside Z receiver, is senior X Jimmy Williams (9-143-1), junior inside H Quay Johnson (23-164-1) and junior reserve back Devin Anderson (7-50-1), who hauled in the lone TD the Pirates scored last week. Also getting more involved are sophomore Deondre Farrier (5-73) and junior tight end Stephen Baggett (4-61).

The Virginia Tech defense, as always, is a direct extension of long-time coordinator Bud Foster, and is coming off a 49-0 shutout of Boston College last week in its ACC opener.

“He's been doing it for 40 years, and I've competed against him as a coordinator and there has been no one that has challenged us more as a coordinator than he has,” Montgomery said of Foster, noting that the Hokie secondary is loaded with talent.

Foster's unit is led at the back end by its junior cornerbacks in Brandon Facyson, who has defended five passes, and Greg Stroman, who has a pair of interceptions. Sophomore rover Tremaine Edmunds boasts a team-best four tackles for loss.

Junior middle linebacker Andrew Motuapuaka has a team-high 29 tackles to go with a fumble recovery, a tackle for loss, a pass breakup and a quarterback hurry, while senior end Ken Ekanem has also been disruptive with 2.5 sacks and three QB hurries to go with 12 stops.

For the second straight week, the ECU defense battled to keep the Pirates in the game against the Gamecocks, but will face another tough assignment in the multi-faceted Virginia Tech offense.

That assignment will fall squarely on nose tackle Demetri McGill (10 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss), along with outside linebackers Dayon Pratt (11 tackles, two TFLs, sack, forced fumble) and Yiannis Bowden (10 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, two QB hurries).

Inside linebackers Jordan Williams (team-high 19 tackles, two TFLs), Cam White (eight tackles, TFL) and Terrell Richardson (15 tackles) have been among the most active stoppers. Cornerback DaShaun Amos (11 tackles) and free safety Travon Simmons (12 tackles, interception, fumble recovery) have also been vital cogs for the Pirates.

The Tech offense funnels through quarterback Jerod Evans, who has fired 10 TD passes on 682 yards and is also second on the team in rushing behind reserve back Travon McMillan (202 yds., two TDs).

As always, the Hokies have an impressive set of receivers, led by the trio of Isaiah Ford (team-high 20 rec., 259 yds., three TDs), Cam Phillips (14-183-1) and Bucky Hodges (10-103-2).

“Blacksburg is big-time as far as atmosphere is concerned,” said Montgomery, who was hired away from his post as Duke's offensive coordinator and assistant head coach after last season. “We had to go up there and play in four overtimes the last time I was there, and it got louder and louder each overtime. Our guys know what they're in for."

Contact Nathan Summers at nsummers@reflector.com, 252-329-9595 or follow @NateSumm99 on Twitter.

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