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Pirate offense shows pulse, promise

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East Carolina's Darius Pinnix (7) is congratulated by teammates after a rushing touchdown against Memphis at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Pinnix served as the Pirates' wildcat quarterback in the game.

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By Nathan Summers
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, November 3, 2018

There were some new wrinkles in the East Carolina offense on Saturday, and while they still need some ironing out, the Pirates’ 59-41 loss to Memphis showed some promise the team is developing a viable offensive identity.

The team that matched a season-high in points also opened the game with an attempted double-reverse flea-flicker play that ultimately was incomplete from ECU quarterback Holton Ahlers to offensive centerpiece Trevon Brown. But the Pirates, who scored in every quarter including twice in the third to briefly tie the game 31-31, and offensive coordinator Tony Petersen had other tricks to try.

Among them was the team’s first touchdown later that same drive. Ahlers lined up at receiver with running back Darius Pinnix in the wildcat formation and little-known freshman Xavier Smith beside him. Pinnix took the snap straight up the middle for a 7-0 ECU lead.

“I think it’s this offense,” ECU head coach Scottie Montgomery said. “This is, if you go back and look at what we do in this offense, it’s different than how we were operating before. This is more what we’ve done in the past with different types of quarterbacks, be it (former Duke and ECU starter) Thomas Sirk a few years back or (former Duke starter) Anthony Boone a few years back ... so it’s coming a little bit closer to that. We’re going to do more of that.”

Ahlers rushed for a team-high 57 yards and exploded for 449 pass yards and three touchdowns.

Montgomery added that the direct snaps to Pinnix not only alleviated some of the contact on Ahlers, but also put the ball into the hands of a smart and capable player. Pinnix took another direct snap for a touchdown in the third quarter with Ahlers on the sideline.

“I played quarterback all the way to my sophomore year in high school,” said Pinnix, who lamented the fact the offensive success was not enough to keep pace with the Tigers as the Pirates remained winless (0-5) in the American Athletic Conference this season.

Also on ECU’s game-opening drive that was full of surprises, Petersen dialed up a version of the “Philly Special,” the receiver-to-QB pass play made famous by the Philadelphia Eagles in last year’s Super Bowl but which has been executed numerous times, including by ECU receiver Cam Worthy and quarterback Shane Carden for a touchdown at the 2013 Beef O’Brady’s Bowl.

In this case and on fourth down, the pass from Brown to Ahlers fell incomplete, but it was another glimpse of the team’s possible future versatility. Pass interference was called to extend the drive.

“Anything to get the edge,” Ahlers said. “We stay in the film room and our coaches do a great job of recognizing that we could put some wrinkles in to help us get a couple yards or a couple touchdowns.”

Contact Nathan Summers at nsummers@reflector.com, 252-329-9595 and follow @NateSumm99 on Twitter.

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