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Pirates always connected with UNC matchup

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East Carolina's Reid Herring looks down the field as he rolls to his right during Sunday's game against North Carolina A&T.

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

East Carolina’s football roster is stacked with in-state players, including walk-on defensive back Rowe Mellot from Chapel Hill and six players from Raleigh.

At the forefront of those is starting quarterback Reid Herring, who is set to start Saturday afternoon against North Carolina in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium for his second-career start.

The magnitude of this ECU-UNC matchup is headlined by head coaches on each side who are on the hot seat to different degrees, but for the players there also is always plenty of motivation.

Some of them played with or against each other in high school. Some ECU players might have picked the Pirates over the Tar Heels, but many of them also didn’t get recruited by UNC for a chance to play in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Pirate freshman receiver Blake Proehl has a brother, Austin, who was a standout receiver for the Tar Heels from 2014-17. Herring’s father, Scott, earned a letter for the Heels under coach Mack Brown in 1988.

“It means a lot to play a school like UNC, especially when you are at ECU,” said Herring, a sophomore who was a football and baseball star at Millbrook High in Raleigh. “It’s always a big game. We are looking forward to it.”

Herring attempted 65 passes in his first start — a 28-23 upset loss to North Carolina A&T — and he completed 37 of them for 309 yards and two touchdowns. He also threw two interceptions, the first of which was one of the costly plays for the Pirates, as a pass across the middle as Herring rolled to his right was snagged by A&T’s Mac McCain in end zone and McCain ran more than 100 yards the other direction for a touchdown and a 7-3 Aggie lead late in the first quarter.

UNC, which is still without with suspended quarterback Chazz Surratt as part of the team’s offseason shoe-selling scandal, has a junior QB in Nathan Elliot who like Herring is still trying to build up his experience and prowess. Elliot struggled as a passer in a 24-17 loss at California last week, finishing 15-of-35 for 137 yards, a TD and four interceptions, but he also was UNC’s leading rusher with 58 yards on 10 carries.

Herring had four rushes for minus-4 yards against the Aggies, which has been a sticking point this week already in the Pirates wanting to diversify their run game and get better production.

ECU offensive coordinator Tony Petersen said he is expecting Herring to improve with the more starts he makes, and that will play a big role in Saturday’s rivalry matchup.

“I remember my first game in college and I remember all the first games from doing this for a long time,” Petersen said. “They have to experience it and once they get it in under their belt, they always improve dramatically from that first game. He missed some plays that I would bet my life he wouldn’t have missed. But you know what, it was a first-time quarterback in that stadium.”

The Pirates played N.C. A&T on Sunday and had Monday off. They returned to practice Tuesday morning, and head coach Scottie Montgomery said they are still pained from starting a season with a loss, but they are emotionally stable as they continue to prepare for taking on the favored Tar Heels.

“We had a big team meeting and the players came in and they knew the four or five critical plays in the (A&T) game,” Montgomery said. “They are not harping on it, but they understand and you can hear them out here that we have to make every single play and especially in critical situations.”

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

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