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SUMMERS: ECU wins on emotion

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ECU's Hussein Howe jumps over BYU's Grant Jones during their game on Oct. 21, 2017. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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By Nathan Summers
The Daily Reflector

Monday, October 23, 2017

On a Saturday-to-Saturday basis, America's college football obsession invariably overlooks the thousands of individual kids it takes to create the weekly spectacle.

More specifically, it commands those kids to be adults who are generally asked to take more accountability for their actions in games than most actual adults do in everyday life.

At the core of the millions of dollars invested in college teams and TV deals and millions more spent by fans on high-priced tickets, concessions and apparel – and well beyond the week-long office and Twitter conversations the games create that carry so many people from Monday to another Saturday – are college students.

By their very definition, they are still figuring things out.

For East Carolina, it's been a tough couple of months in that regard.

The Pirates entered Saturday night's homecoming game against BYU under the dark cloud of a 1-6 start to the season. Question marks multiplied like mosquitoes as those losses piled up and as fans and even upcoming opponents piled on.

Whether second-year ECU head coach Scottie Montgomery was coaching for his job or not on Saturday night, on this night at least, he and his misfit band of Pirates did all the right things. They even said the right things following a 33-17 victory against a BYU team which saw its own season of despair plummet even deeper with a 1-7 record.

After some considerable effort all week from the East Carolina head coach and Director of Athletics Jeff Compher to boost morale and coax out a much bigger crowd than attended the team's last two home games, there was energy in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium for the first time in at least a year.

The Pirates bucked their season-long proclivity for competing during parts of games but not others by using their full complement of players to slowly hammer into place a second victory this season. It was far more convincing than their missed field goal cliffhanger back in September at Connecticut in which a shanked Huskies kick as time expired allowed the Pirates to sneak home with a 41-38 win.

This time, instead of leaving the outcome up to the clock or the fate of an opposing team's kicker, the ECU defense grabbed whatever game plan BYU had and slammed it to the turf. The Pirate offense, despite turning the ball over on its first drive and later losing starting quarterback Thomas Sirk to an elbow injury in the second half, did its share, including a pair of insurance touchdown tosses by backup Gardner Minshew in the fourth quarter. And ECU's kicker did not miss, knocking home four big field goals in succession to give ECU a 19-10 lead after three quarters.

What does it all mean?

Maybe not much for a team that now must figure out a way to get a win against a much more credible slate of remaining opponents – Houston, Tulane, Cincinnati or Memphis – just to match last season's three total wins.

It might be fleeting, but the relief written on the Pirates' faces as they walked off the field following a critical homecoming win was an illustration of the unique upswing of feelings that in many ways characterized kids who aren't quite adults yet and adults who aren't quite done being kids yet.

It was the sort of simplified, impulsive happiness that perhaps only people that age truly feel, although you could feel them feeling it.

Pure emotion is a force that can untangle even the most complicated of things.

It is what lifts cars off of people at accident scenes and makes people run through agonizing cramps to finish marathons.

On Saturday night, it helped ECU wide receiver Trevon Brown drag another human being nearly 10 full yards to the goal line on a play that eventually set up a key Pirate touchdown.

In certain circumstances, it creates wins and sometimes even total turnarounds for people and teams in seemingly impossible scenarios.

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

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