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SUMMERS: No quarter should be expected

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East Carolina fans are surrounded by empty seats at home againt Temple on Oct. 7, 2017. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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By Nathan Summers
The Daily Reflector

Monday, October 9, 2017

“No quarter.”

The red war flags bearing the East Carolina logo and those ominous, infamous pirate words became a unique tradition at the end of the third quarter of football games at the university 10 years ago.

As the flag was shimmied up the pole in the west end zone in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium at the onset of fourth quarters, raucous Pirate fans began brandishing their own likenesses of the ECU ensign and those who didn't crossed their arms en masse to mimic the skull-and-crossbones symbol.

When the house was packed and the Pirates were winning, there was nothing like it.

Those red flags began dotting their way across even the upper reaches of even the north grandstand as the fury of “Welcome to the Jungle” ripped across the field. The idea was to get fans revved up one last time as the often pivotal final quarter began, and it very often worked like a charm.

Not surprisingly, such flags can now be bought online everywhere from Amazon to eBay.

Taking it a step further, the school introduced a massive rendition of the banner this season to be passed around overhead by the masses crammed into The Boneyard student section, a tradition borrowed from world soccer and more recently American sports.

Four of a rare seven ECU home games have now passed, all of them 20-point-or-more blowout losses. They have made the giant red flag more of a suffocation hazard than an imposing display of strength for the few students still in the stands by that time.

The Pirates are 1-5 and set to leave their somber home turf for a trip to play a team at the other end of the spectrum. Waiting in Orlando, Fla., this week is unbeaten and nationally ranked Central Florida, a program that recently pulled itself up from its own throes and turned into just the sort of football team East Carolina hoped to be at this point.

The Knights, who entered the AAC as an immediate contender, endured the unthinkable just two years ago, going 0-12 in a season during which long-time coach George O'Leary resigned after starting 0-8. But second-year coach Scott Frost has been a resurrection man, and the Knights are a seeming overnight success.

The Pirates and second-year coach Scottie Montgomery need a resurrection too after being drubbed 34-10 on Saturday by a Temple team that appeared before kickoff to be a relative equal to ECU. Instead, the Owls got the lifeline their season needed and the Pirates fell deeper into the hole.

That hole isn't just in the American Athletic Conference standings. It is also in the proverbial Pirate treasure chest that is likely not near as full as athletic director Jeff Compher would like. With blueprints in hand for a major stadium renovation that has already been hit with a substantial delay, each of the last three home games has drawn fewer and fewer paying customers.

Growing dissatisfaction is evidenced by the empty seats, but it is going farther than that now.

A flag of a different sort was flown, literally, before the team's 61-31 loss to South Florida, as a local resident expressed himself across the skies above Greenville, hiring a plane pulling a streamer that read “Fire Compher.” Similar sentiment has been floating across social media and apparently emblazoned across t-shirts on ECU's campus.

As much of a long shot as it appears to be when ECU faces one of its toughest tests of the season against arguably the American's hottest team, a UCF-like turnaround can start anywhere, anytime, even Saturday at UCF.

But the losing habit gets tougher to kick each week, and it would now be a late-season one at best if there were to be an ECU resurgence. Already the Pirates must win five of their last six games to avoid being home for a third straight bowl postseason.

As that massive No Quarter flag gets tougher and tougher to keep afloat, so does the athletic budget that lives and breathes on big football crowds.

Remaining visits from BYU, Tulane and Cincinnati would be improbable sellouts in Greenville in the best of times. In these times, those games will struggle to draw even the announced 31,000 and change that Temple did, and for the second straight week that was the smallest home crowd in more than a decade.

In truth, it's the Pirates who are a tough draw right now.

Crowds haven't been this small since Skip Holtz took over for John Thompson, and it took a long time and a lot of wins to fill those seats back up again and make donors happy again. Coincidentally, that era also marked the start of the No Quarter flag-raising tradition.

If ECU wants enough fans to fly giant flags, winning is the only way. Without wins, it is ECU that can expect no quarter, or dollars.

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

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