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Ahlers gets the ball

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East Carolina's Holton Ahlers takes the snap for a 1-yard touchdown run against North Carolina at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Sept. 8.

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Monday, October 15, 2018

The East Carolina football team is turning to true freshman quarterback Holton Ahlers for this week and with a long-term plan in mind for the 6-foot-3, 236-pound left-hander to be the leader of the ECU offense.

Coach Scottie Montgomery announced Monday during his weekly news conference that Ahlers, a prized recruit from D.H. Conley High School who was a baseball/football standout in Greenville as early as his pre-teen years, will make his first-career start Saturday night versus UCF.

ECU (2-4, 0-3 American Athletic Conference) will be a heavy underdog against the 10th-ranked Knights (6-0, 3-0) at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium for the 7 p.m. game to be broadcast on ESPN2.

“He doesn’t have a leash, because we are taking the leash off,” Montgomery said of a possible QB rotation with Ahlers, former starter Reid Herring and redshirt freshman Kingsley Ifedi. “He is going to get to play as long and as hard as he can. One thing about it is, and we all have to realize, that there is going to some bad plays in there, but there also is going to be some really, really good plays.

“We’ll have to work through it and we have a true freshman starting quarterback, but I am looking forward to him playing a lot. … I’m excited and looking forward to it.”

ECU has used all three QBs in three straight games, including Saturday night when Houston built a 42-6 lead early in the fourth quarter at Dowdy-Ficklen before Ahlers led two touchdown drives to create the 42-20 final margin in favor of the surging Cougars.

Herring was the Pirates’ starter for the first six games. In AAC play, the sophomore has zero touchdown passes and three interceptions.

Ahlers is the Pirates’ leading rusher with 38 carries for 248 yards and five TDs, but it was his passing stats against Houston (11-of-18, 137 yards, TD) that showed progression. His first-career touchdown pass was a 13-yarder to Trevon Brown.

Montgomery added that Ahlers still will not be made available for media interviews this week, but should be soon.

“My biggest goal in this thing is to make sure that the pressure of this start doesn’t affect him,” he said. “I think a lot of times you can get all kinds of emotion and energy built around the opportunity to start. We can do things in the game plan, early, that he feels really comfortable with.”

Montgomery told Ahlers before Sunday night’s practice that he is the new starting QB.

“He said, ‘Let’s go.’ That was it,” Montgomery said of the interaction. “It was that simple, and he was fired up. He took the first snap of Sunday night’s practice.”

ECU is turning to the lefty during a difficult stretch of league games and with a 1-3 record since beating North Carolina, 41-19, on Sept. 8.

The AAC announced Monday that UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton was the league player of the week, and Houston interior lineman Ed Oliver was the defensive player of the week. Oliver had two sacks against the Pirates, including one on Herring that resulted in a fumble and touchdown, and his five tackles for loss tied the American’s single-game record.

“Would I like to go out there and see Houston without Ed Oliver? Yes,” Montgomery said. “It would have made a better chance to be effective on our offensive line. McKenzie Milton is the ultimate general of a college football team, and he is doing things that 7-, 8- and 9-year pros don’t have the understanding to do.

“He is a very talented, but what we have to understand is that it also is not good (for opponents) to go against (ECU defensive end) Nate Harvey. We have to create more of those situations through recruiting, because UCF has done a great job through recruiting and Houston did a great job with Ed Oliver through recruiting.”

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

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