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Big day by defense in scrimmage

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ECU's defensive players warm up before their first scrimmage game at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Aug. 12, 2017. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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BY RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, August 12, 2017

As East Carolina football coach Scottie Montgomery was addressing the media just minutes after the completion of his team’s first preseason scrimmage Saturday, it was obvious who had the upper hand during the game-like session at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

“You can hear (the defensive players) over there right now and how excited they are to come out to play,” Montgomery said. “I’ve put a lot of pressure on that group, because I think that group is ready to go. I feel good about who they are and the leadership they have on that side of the ball, but to see them come out and play well today was really good.”

There were three touchdowns and six turnovers. Four of the giveaways were fumbles, and Reid Herring and Thomas Sirk each threw an interception.

Sirk and Gardner Minshew are battling for the starting QB spot, and Saturday they were without lead receivers Jimmy Williams and Davon Grayson, who were held out for precautionary reasons and to give others receivers extensive work. Starting center Garrett McGhin also temporarily played guard, where first-teamer Cortez Herrin was out.

Minshew led two of the scoring drives and was 11-of-17 for 181 yards. Sirk was 9-of-14 for 118 yards.

The defense featured Jordan Williams making seven tackles with an interception, Kiante Anderson had two sacks and freshman linebacker Bruce Bivens made six tackles to go with a fumble force and fumble recovery.

“What stood out was the energy from our sideline and the defense got rowdy and we made our own crowd out there,” Williams, a senior linebacker, said. “We just forced turnovers and hit hard, and that got guys going.”

Montgomery lauded Sirk’s chemistry with Mydreon Vines, a freshman and J.H. Rose High School product who had a big day with 10 receptions for 123 yards and caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from Minshew. The other two scores were Tyshon Dye’s 2-yard run and Sirk hitting Terrell Green for an 18-yard play in which Green broke away from potential tacklers just before the goal line and got in for a touchdown.

“It was great to see the defense get turnovers, but we also had the ball in our hands and gave it to them,” offensive coordinator Tony Petersen said, pointing mainly to the fumbles, some of which came by receivers. “Yes, there were guys who were backups or (third-team) out there, but they still have to hold on to it. It’s the No. 1 thing we talked about when we started camp and the No. 1 thing that kept us from two, three or four more wins last year.”

Minshew backed up Petersen’s comments about how costly turnovers were for the Pirates in 2016.

“That was something we’ve really tried to focus on learning from last year, so I know we’ll put an emphasis on it the rest of this camp and we’ll get that taken care of,” said Minshew, a junior who started two games at ECU last season while Sirk is here as a graduate transfer after making 12 starts for Duke in 2015.

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.

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