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GAMEDAY: Pirates look to take out UNC

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East Carolina QB Reid Herring.

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, September 8, 2018

As East Carolina football aims to rekindle some Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium magic against North Carolina today, the visiting Tar Heels also come in with a sense of desperation.

Both teams went 3-9 last season and they each started this year with a loss.

For ECU, that meant falling 28-23 to Football Championship Subdivision opponent North Carolina A&T last Sunday in a result that only heightened the tension in Greenville and has many Pirate followers on edge about another possible losing season. The Pirates were ultimately doomed by three turnovers, two in the Aggies’ red zone, in the loss.

UNC comes into the 3:30 p.m kickoff with a 12-4-1 lead in the all-time series, but it was defeated in the last two meetings, the most recent in 2014 when ECU won 70-41. In front a Dowdy-Ficklen all-time high crowd of 51,082, the home team that day amassed a school-record 789 offensive yards, and Shane Carden’s first touchdown pass went to now-Pirate senior Trevon Brown.

Since that signature win, East Carolina has posted a 16-30 overall record, and that includes coach Scottie Montgomery’s 6-19 mark in two-plus seasons.

“We are playing better on defense and now it’s on critical errors and us getting certain people ready and prepared to play games better,” said Montgomery, whose team will see sophomore QB Reid Herring make his second-career start after two touchdowns and two interceptions last Sunday afternoon. “We can’t have eight or nine or 10 guys be right. Eleven guys have to be right. I have to do a better job of that.”

Montgomery has never faced the Tar Heels as a head coach, but as a player and assistant coach at Duke he went 1-10 against the rival from Chapel Hill.

Like Montgomery, coach Larry Fedora is feeling some outside heat at UNC, which lost 24-17 at California last week as a seven-point underdog. Carolina is facing a two-game slate against American Athletic Conference opponents as it is set to host UCF next week for its home-opener.

“There’s no doubt in my mind Scottie Montgomery will have his team ready to play and there’s no doubt in my mind they will probably play the best game that they play this season,” Fedora said. “Our team has to be prepared for that.”

The coach added that he doesn’t have any extra personal motivation stemming from 55-31 and 70-41 setbacks to the Pirates in 2013 and ‘14, respectively.

“I really just focus on the next game at hand and it is the next game,” he said. “There is nothing more to it than we are going on the road to prepare our team to play a team that is in the state of North Carolina. There’s no more motivation needed in my opinion.”

The Tar Heels haven’t started a season with consecutive road games since 2001 when they began with road losses to Oklahoma, Maryland and Texas.

This UNC team will still be without 10 players suspended from an offseason shoe-selling scandal.

Quarterback Chazz Surratt was dealt a four-game suspension, which has Nathan Elliot in charge of the offense. Last week he had mixed results. The 6-foot-1, 215 pound junior led the Heels in rushing against Cal with 58 yards on 10 carries, but through the air he was 15-of-35 for 137 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions.

Lead receiver Anthony Ratliff (630 receiving yards and six touchdowns in 2017) started his junior year by catching Elliot’s lone TD pass.

The ECU defense, which was worst in the nation last year, ranks 24th in rush defense after yielding 82 yards to N.C. A&T. East Carolina, which did surrender a few key first downs on third-and-long, will have to deal with another Antonio in running back and Ohio State transfer Antonio Williams looking to continue to establish himself with the Heels.

Individual standouts on the Pirate defense from last week included a few linemen. Senior end Nate Harvey totaled a team-high eight tackles, and Jalen Price had four stops and the lone ECU sack.

“Them being an in-state rival, there is a little bit more if we win this one,” Harvey said of playing UNC. “There’s bragging rights for the year.”

ECU will likely need more big plays from Brown at receiver and in the return game. Looking to complement him are fellow wideouts Terrell Green (team-high 10 catches, 85 yards), Blake Proehl and starting running back Anthony Scott. Brown, Scott and Green are all seniors, and Proehl is a redshirt freshman who made nine catches for 65 yards in his collegiate debut.

The Carolina defense features three senior starters, but not end Malik Carney on an experienced line because he begins his suspension this week. The senior was UNC’s leader against Cal with eight tackles, including two sacks.

J.K. Britt (six tackles) is a leader in the secondary at strong safety.

“I think their safeties are their best players,” Pirate offensive coordinator Tony Petersen said of Britt and junior Myles Dorn. “They are big-time downhill hitters and they like to bring it from the back end. … We have to execute at a high level, because they have a lot of talent over there.”

THREE QUESTIONS

1. How is the atmosphere? Last weekend’s home-opener was unconventional to say the least for ECU, which was able to announce a paid attendance of 38,640, but the stadium really was about half-full for the Sunday afternoon contest after it was postponed from Saturday night. Pirate fans love to see East Carolina play against the ACC, evidenced by the 2014 game against UNC holding the Dowdy-Ficklen record of 51,082 fans.

2. Does Holton Ahlers play? It is a question worth asking until Ahlers, a Greenville native, does see action at quarterback. The talented freshman left-hander was dressed in full pads but did not play against N.C. A&T.

3. Who wins the turnover battle? Elliot threw four interceptions against Cal and Herring had two versus the Aggies in Week 1. The Pirate defense did not gain a takeaway, which has the team at minus-3 in turnover ratio heading into today.

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.

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