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PIRATE GAMEDAY: UConn visits for senior day

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East Carolina football offensive captain Garrett McGhin.

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, November 17, 2018

East Carolina and Connecticut are both starving for a football win, and one of the clubs is bound to achieve that feeling tonight inside Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

Both teams are 0-6 in American Athletic Conference play. The Pirates (2-7 overall) have three games remaining and they are favored over the Huskies (1-9) to stop a five-game losing streak.

It also is senior day for ECU in the season’s final game at Dowdy-Ficklen, which brings about its own wave of emotions for the 20 players set to be honored before the 7 p.m. kickoff.

“We take a lot of pride (in senior day), just because of all the stuff we’ve been through,” senior right tackle and offensive captain Garrett McGhin said. “There are a lot of guys that could have abandoned ship when things didn’t go their way, and a lot of things haven't gone our way in multiple aspects with an entire coaching change (from Ruffin McNeill to Scottie Montgomery in 2015) and different position coaches. It’s a hard thing to go through and people don’t understand that it is very easy to just get up and leave.

“Something could have driven (players) to leave, but a lot of people in the locker room take a lot of pride in wearing that purple and gold.”

ECU’s recent mix of youth, led by freshman starting quarterback Holton Ahlers, and experience will be on display. Outside receivers set to start are Trevon Brown and Terrell Green, and the defense includes three senior starters in the secondary in Marcus Holton Jr., Corey Seargent and Devon Sutton.

Sutton has 60 tackles, which trails only sophomore hard-hitting free safety Davondre Robinson and his team-best 62 stops.

Ahlers, who has started three straight games and accounted for 1,410 total yards in those losses to UCF, Memphis and Tulane, has shown a great rapport with Brown. ECU’s leading receiver has recorded at least 145 yards in four straight games to get him to 999 for the season and put the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Wilmington native on the verge of consecutive 1,000-yard campaigns.

One more yard for Brown also will give the Pirates a 1,000-yard receiver for seven straight seasons, a mark that leads the nation.

“It’s not just another game, because it is senior day,” said Montgomery, who has an 8-25 career record with the Pirates while opposing veteran head coach Randy Edsall and his recent struggles include a 4-18 combined record in 2017 and ‘18. “Our guys understand that. Senior day is a huge deal because of everything that seniors have to endure and go through, and not just in athletics but also in academics. It’s definitely senior day, first and foremost.”

ECU is 3-1 all-time against the Huskies, scoring 41 points each of the last two years in wins. Thomas Sirk passed for 426 yards a season ago in East Carolina’s 41-38 victory in East Hartford, Conn.

This year, UConn has the worst-ranked defense in the country.

The Pirates’ defense still excels in certain areas, mainly ranking third in the nation in tackles for loss behind senior D-end Nate Harvey’s 10.5 sacks and single-season school-record 21 tackles for loss, but the unit has been prone to allowing too many big plays lately. Tulane beat the Pirates, 24-18, a week ago in New Orleans behind scoring passes of 86, 73 and 79 yards.

East Carolina faces a UConn squad led undoubtedly by quarterback David Pindell. The senior (6-0, 198) from Columbia, Md., has six 100-yard rushing games and a 15-to-9 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

A stellar offensive performance for the Huskies came a week ago when Pindell was 25-of-38 passing for 215 yards, four touchdowns and an interception to go with 21 carries for 184 yards and two TDs. Running back David Mensah also ran for 184 yards.

But SMU handed UConn its seventh straight loss, 62-50, thanks to the Mustangs finishing with a 594-583 edge in total yards and not committing a turnover.

Pindell and Ahlers are their team’s respective leading rushers. Pindell has 1,115 yards and 10 touchdowns, and the left-handed Ahlers is averaging an ECU-best 4.5 yards per carry.

“They have a really dynamic quarterback and that young man is a really good football player,” ECU defensive coordinator David Blackwell said of Pindell, who did not play in last year’s loss to the Pirates. “You have to watch him. ... He’s a guy that you have to be aware of and what they are doing, because they do a good job of designing runs for him.”

ECU running back Darius Pinnix is first on the depth chart and could be poised for a breakthrough outing tonight. He has three rushing TDs for the year, trailing Ahlers’ five scores.

Ahlers has thrown for seven touchdowns and two INTs, including one last week for the Pirates’ lone giveaway in the loss to Tulane. Brown connected with Ahlers for touchdowns from 80 and 31 yards out.

The talented freshman was at D.H. Conley High School last fall when the Pirates won at UConn and routed now-thriving Cincinnati in the home finale for their two league wins. Brown totaled a school-record 270 receiving yards in the 48-20 win over Cincinnati for 2017 senior day.

But the Pirates have not secured a league win since then, dropping seven straight AAC contests. Only two of those losses were by less than 18 points.

“It would be huge, and especially for the seniors,” Ahlers said of potentially beating the Huskies again tonight. “It’s on senior day, which means a lot to all of us. We’re going to do it for them, and for this team. We need a lot confidence. A win would definitely help that.”

THREE QUESTIONS

1. Which East Carolina running back gets the most carries? There have been hints all week that ECU is going to try some new things to spark its mostly stagnant run game. Darius Pinnix or maybe even Trace Christian seem primed for big opportunities tonight against a UConn defense that ranks last in the nation.

2. How many total yards for David Pindell? Despite the Huskies’ many struggles, their quarterback is plenty explosive. He leads all FBS quarterbacks in rushing yards with 1,115. Running back Kevin Mensah is the other UConn player to watch on offense, but it all starts with containing Pindell and his versatility.

3. Is this the weakest crowd of the season? An element of this game is it being at night and featuring the only two teams in the American Athletic Conference without a league win. Pirate fans are frustrated, and attendance at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium has regressed throughout the season. The last home game was the lowest, when the announced attendance was 29,127 for a 59-41 afternoon loss to Memphis.

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

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