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Pirates bringing the pressure

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Defensive end Nate Harvey (40) and other East Carolina players celebrate after a sack of Old Dominion quarterback Blake LaRussa (11) at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

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By Jake Keator
The Daily Reflector

Sunday, September 30, 2018

In Scottie Montgomery’s first 26 games as head coach of the East Carolina football team, the Pirates never recorded five sacks in a game.

After finishing a 37-35 win over Old Dominion on Saturday night at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium with a ninth sack against the Monarchs and quarterback Blake LaRussa, it gave Montgomery and the Pirates six-plus sacks in consecutive weeks. ECU (2-2), which is being led on defense by first-year Pirate coordinator and former ECU player David Blackwell, also limited ODU (1-4) to 21 rushing yards and totaled 15 tackles for loss.

Defensive end Nate Harvey had a team-high three sacks. Harvey also had six total tackles, bested only by Alex Turner and Aaron Ramseur with seven each, and 3.5 tackles for loss.

“Coach Blackwell put us in a great position and we just had to make the plays,” Harvey said. 

Fellow end Kendall Futrell collected two sacks. Turner had 1.5.

Playing at the same position, but on opposite sides of the formation, Futrell and Harvey have developed a rivalry to see who can best terrorize opposing quarterbacks. They were both relentless with their speed and power against ODU starting tackles Issac Weaver and Chad Hendricks, often making a quick path to the QB.

“It’s a competition between us every day,” Harvey said of Futrell, a Winterville native and 6-foot-2, 230-pound junior. “Before the games we talk about who is going to get the first sack. I love playing with him.”

With less than 3 minutes remaining and ECU trailing 35-34, Montgomery decided to punt on fourth-and-1 from the Pirate 28-yard line. Fans were displeased with the call, as boos came from the stands at Dowdy-Ficklen, but Montgomery was confident in his defense’s ability to force another stop.

It worked perfectly for ECU, which stuffed running back Jeremy Cox for no gain, forced an incomplete pass and then Turner dropped LaRussa for a sack of minus-8 yards. ODU punted, and ECU created the winning margin on the ensuing drive with a Jake Verity field goal.

“Our fans were a lot happier at the end of the game than they were (during the punt),” Montgomery said. “That’s part of it. You have to be able to trust your defense. ... You win right there at the end, 37-35, and we haven’t had one of those since I’ve been here. That is very gratifying.”

In addition to all the pressure up front, senior cornerback Corey Seargent snagged the Pirates’ first interception of the season. It came late in the third quarter.

“I knew they felt confident when they were throwing the ball earlier in the game,” Seargent said. “So we were just anticipating it the whole time and once I saw the ball in the air, I just turned my head and attacked the ball. I knew I had to get it.”

After his interception, Seargent was assessed a 10-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for his celebration.

“I told the boys about the dance I was going to do when I got my first pick,” he said. “Everyone was waiting the whole year, so I had to kill it for them.”

The final play of the game also was defined by the Pirate pass rush. As LaRussa dropped back to pass, Futrell once again forced himself into the backfield. Turner, Harvey and Raequan Purvis joined Futrell in the pursuit of LaRussa, who tossed the ball away in desperation and was flagged for intentional grounding.

A 10-second runoff because of the grounding ended the game.

East Carolina’s defense, which ranked last in the country in 2017, moved up to tie with Wisconsin on Sunday at No. 17 in total defense this year.

“Coach Blackwell has not only changed the scheme, but the passion he brings to the game, it’s amazing,” Harvey said. 

Contact Jake Keator at jkeator@reflector.com, 252-329-9594 and follow @JakeKeatorDR on Twitter.

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