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Pirates, seniors favored in home finale

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East Carolina seniors Garrett McGhin and Trevon Brown, top, embrace after Brown scored a touchdown against Memphis on Nov. 3 at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Two important elements to Saturday night’s East Carolina football game are that the struggling Pirates (2-7) are favored against Connecticut (1-9), and that it is senior day at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

ECU has been the underdog in all but two games this season. It was nearly a two-touchdown favorite in the season-opener versus North Carolina A&T, but lost 28-23, and was a 7-point favorite for a home game against Old Dominion and won 37-35.

Despite facing a difficult string of American Athletic Conference opponents since topping Old Dominion on Sept. 29 and running up a five-game losing streak, the Pirates are listed as 17-point favorites over a UConn team allowing 49.3 points per game.

“It’s not really (different) because we don’t look at those numbers or anything,” ECU quarterback Holton Ahlers said. “We know who we are and what we are capable of. We just come out here and practice every day like it’s our last day of practice.”

Ahlers is a freshman with plenty of time remaining to shine in front of his hometown fans, but the number of practices are dwindling for the Pirates’ seniors. They only have three games remaining with the Pirates.

The veterans have talked this week not only about the impending senior day pregame festivities, but about how they have stayed at ECU during losing seasons. They have tried to keep their class together as best as possible.

“I could have grad transferred this year, and I know a lot of guys could have done that or went and played Division II ball somewhere closer to home or something,” said offensive lineman Garrett McGhin, who is from Tallahassee, Fla. “I really hope that Pirate Nation comes and shows out for these seniors that have given so much to this university and this program. We never wavered in the way we work, and I know we have gotten a lot of hate and a lot of negativity surrounding this program the last couple years, but we have given it our all and I can truly say with all my heart that there are some seniors in there who have given everything.”

McGhin has started 17 straight games as the team’s most steady O-lineman. On defense, nickel back and senior Devon Sutton leads the Pirates with 19 consecutive starts.

“I honestly didn’t even know (about the streak) until a couple days ago when my mom said something to me about it,” Sutton said after Wednesday’s practice, which featured starting punter Jonn Young (leg) working in full capacity and expected to play Saturday against the Huskies. “It is humbling because it has been a journey for me. I’m definitely grateful, and I am proud of the work I’ve put in.

“I remember high school for senior day, but I think this one will be a little more emotional and especially for my family coming here. They have been my support system for a while.”

Like McGhin on offense, senior linebacker Cannon Gibbs is ECU’s defensive captain. Gibbs, a Brandon, Miss., native who played two seasons at Jones (Miss.) Junior College before signing with the Pirates in December of 2016, started last week against Tulane.

He has been in steady rotation all year with Bruce Bivens, Aaron Ramseur and Ray Tillman in the middle part of ECU’s 4-2-5 defensive scheme.

“I love Greenville and ever since my (recruiting) visit here, I fell in love with the people and the fans and teammates and coaches and students,” Gibbs said. “I have a good time and my teachers are awesome. I’ll be a Pirate forever and this a long way away from home, but my second home is definitely here in Greenville, North Carolina.”

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

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