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Coach: Tuesday was Ahlers' best practice

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East Carolina freshman quarterback Holton Ahlers looks down the field to pass against Central Florida on Oct. 20.

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Another sign of the growing confidence East Carolina football has in freshman starting quarterback Holton Ahlers came Tuesday, when head coach Scottie Montgomery said after a workout that it was Ahlers’ best practice of the year.

It was ECU’s first practice since its bye week and the first during a week that will end with hosting Memphis on Saturday at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in a key American Athletic Conference matchup for both teams. They will enter the noon kickoff with a 1-7 combined AAC record.

“It was his accuracy with the football and he just did a really good job of protecting himself with (pass) protection,” Montgomery said when asked why Tuesday stood out. “It was mainly the throws today. The run game has always been there for him, but today, he threw it as well as he has thrown it since he’s been here.”

Saturday will serve as the second-career start for the former D.H. Conley Conley High School star. Ahlers, who passed for 406 yards in a 37-10 loss to UCF on Oct. 20 in his first start, received extra work Tuesday partly because former starter Reid Herring is still out from a concussion suffered a few weeks ago.

“It’s just more days in the playbook and more days with the No. 1 (offense),” said Ahlers, a left-hander who despite not being a full-time starter for most of the year is the leading rusher for ECU (2-5) with 317 yards on 65 carries. “I try to make every day the best practice I have for the year, so I just have to keep working and keep staying in the playbook. ... If I am not better tomorrow then I am not working.”

Montgomery also said the Pirates are hopeful for Herring to return to action this week and serve as a backup to Ahlers on Saturday.

“I think that we’ll see him in practice tomorrow, just listening to him and where he’s at,” the coach said.

Ahlers was productive against undefeated and high-powered UCF with 475 yards of total offense, but East Carolina still totaled five giveaways (three by Ahlers) and did not produce enough points for the Pirates to pick up their first league win. They rank second in the American in passing offense and 18th nationally at 296.1 yards per game, but they are last in the league in AAC-only stats at 12.2 points per game.

ECU also has been doomed by a minus-1.71 turnover margin that ranks 129th in the country.

Encouraging signs came Tuesday morning, and according to Montgomery, that even included quality red zone play from the offense.

“It’s always telling in the red zone period when guys are confident to make tight throws,” Montgomery said. “(Ahlers) made them today and we have to keep him going the way he is right now. Our guys are probably really excited about the way they practiced in the red zone and in the passing period.

“It was a really good day for him and a really good day for the wideouts, with the way they were meshing.”

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

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