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Pirates roll over UNC, 41-19

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East Carolina's Holton Ahlers celebrates after his 1-yard touchdown during Saturday's win against North Carolina at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, September 8, 2018

In one afternoon, Scottie Montgomery turned the self-proclaimed most important game of his football coaching career into the most important win of his career.

East Carolina defied the odds — literally, as a 16-point underdog — and beat North Carolina 41-19 at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium behind a consistent offense that totaled 510 yards and a defense that shut out the Tar Heels after halftime.

Things came together for ECU (1-1) almost perfectly, and at a perfect time after last week’s 28-23 loss to North Carolina A&T to begin Montgomery’s third season, and the 39,298 fans also got to enjoy the impact of freshman quarterback and Greenville native Holton Ahlers.

The former D.H. Conley High School star made his much-anticipated debut, scoring two touchdown runs. Starting quarterback Reid Herring finished 19-of-32 for 290 yards and a TD in a game that featured no turnovers.

Ahlers’ second TD came on a fourth-and-1 from 21 yards out for a 38-19 lead with 14:23 remaining in the game.

ECU’s defense sealed it from there, giving the Pirates three straight wins versus UNC in the series.

“I love beating the Tar Heels,” Montgomery said. “I love it. It’s the best win we’ve had to this point because it’s the last one we’ve had, but I love beating the Tar Heels.”

ECU came in with a 16-30 record since it defeated UNC (0-2) in a 70-41 rout on Sept. 20, 2014, in front of 51,082 fans for the highest-attended game in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium history.

Montgomery was asked Monday, one day after losing to N.C. A&T from the Football Championship Subdivision, if this was the most important game of his career and he replied: “Yes. There’s no question about it.”

After the win, some players said they rallied in support of their coach. Montgomery improved his record with the Pirates to 7-19, highlighted by a win over N.C. State during his first year and this emotional outcome.

“We did a great job of drowning out the noise and not listening to what people were saying,” senior offensive lineman Garrett McGhin said. “We are Pirates and ever since I’ve been here we’ve kind of had that underdog mentality. … You have teams like (UNC) that come in and think they are going to beat you no matter what the circumstances are, so to be able to go out and put those numbers on the board for my last year is pretty special.”

Ahlers ran eight times for 36 yards. His only pass attempt was incomplete.

The 6-foot-3, 236-pound left-hander was at QB and handed off to Darius Pinnix for a key touchdown during the third quarter on a quarterback/running back option play when Pinnix burst through the line and went untouched to the end zone for a 29-18 Pirate lead.

Ahlers replaced Herring during the Pirates’ first drive and he carried the ball 9 yards for his first play. ECU continued to use both Ahlers and Herring the rest of the game.

Leading a Pirate rushing attack that had 49 attempts for 220 yards was Anthony Scott with 17 rushes for 73 yards and a TD. The Heels ran 25 times for 161 yards.

“There was lot of back and forth in that first half, but I thought the difference in the game was the way our defense played in the second half,” Montgomery said. “I don’t know the last time I’ve been part of a shutout in the second half, but also our offense came out and put up 21 points and 20 points in separate halves. It was an all-around great game.”

Ahlers found pay dirt on a 1-yard dive into the end zone near the end of a frantic second quarter. His first-career TD gave ECU a 14-13 edge.

The Tar Heels made a field goal on the ensuing drive, but ECU answered right back and Herring’s pass to Trevon Brown (four receptions, 90 yards) was juggled and snatched in time by Brown in the corner of the end zone for a 22-yard score and 21-16 Pirate lead with 1:15 remaining in the half.

Another answer by UNC came on Freeman Jones’ 42-yard field goal to end the period, making it 21-19 Pirates at halftime. Every drive of the second quarter resulted in points.

UNC posted a 317-272 advantage in offensive yards during the first two quarters. At the start of the fourth period and with the hosts up 28-19, ECU held a 426-352 edge in yards.

“We took care of the ball more and I felt like we played a little bit harder,” Herring said of the difference between Week 1 and Week 2. “When (Ahlers) came into the game, nobody had seen that yet and he brought a different dynamic and ran the ball very well. … I just think our guys came out here and we played our butts off. We really came together throughout the week.”

UNC starting running back Antonio Williams was ejected with 5:02 remaining in the second quarter for a block to the head of Pirate cornerback Colby Gore.

Gore was carted off on a stretcher and transported to Vidant Medical Center for further evaluation under concussion protocol. He was able to raise his arm as he exited the field.

Williams was penalized for a personal foul and ejected from the game, finishing with 96 yards on six carries.

“I know things happen, but it really ticked me off when the player came off the field and he was taunting the fans,” ECU linebacker Aaron Ramseur said. “It was like he had no sympathy. … That’s probably what sparked it for us.”

Ramseur was second on the Pirates in tackles with eight stops. Safety Davondre Robinson led the team with nine tackles.

Carolina quarterback Nathan Elliot finished 22-of-38 for 219 yards.

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

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ECU

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