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WOODWARD: Must-win for Montgomery in Raleigh

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East Carolina head football coach Scottie Montgomery motions from the sideline during the Pirates' win against Connecticut on Nov. 17 at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Sunday, November 25, 2018

CINCINNATI

As East Carolina football seniors and other players were rightfully celebrating their runaway senior night win against Connecticut on Nov. 17, there also was an undertone of reality in the presence of a crucial two-game test to end ECU’s third season under coach Scottie Montgomery.

ECU stood with a 3-7 record at the time, needing a win against favored Cincinnati or N.C. State to finish better than the 3-9 mark the Pirates posted in 2016 and again in ‘17.

They failed the first test in a major way, suffering a 56-6 blowout to Cincinnati. Montgomery admitted the game was “out of hand” during the second quarter, and starting quarterback Holton Ahlers described the day as embarrassing.

What remains now is a must-win game for the team to get an elusive fourth win, and it should be a must-win for Montgomery with the Pirates. At the very least, the NCSU game needs to be more competitive than the rout by Cincinnati.

The Bearcats were a much better team and it served as another American Athletic Conference matchup on the road for ECU with the better coach on the opposing sideline.

Cincinnati left no doubt in a thorough performance, leading 21-0 at the end of the first quarter and 42-6 at halftime. The hosts had the luxury of not dressing out banged-up starting running back Michael Warren, who was able to join teammates in dancing and celebrating on the sideline during the second half.

Quarterback Desmond Ridder connected on four touchdown passes during the first half, then stood comfortably on the sideline after halftime.

UC’s defense was fast and ball-hawking, and its offense totaled 641 yards for the sixth-most yards ever allowed by a Pirate defense and the second-most in a road game.

In Luke Fickell’s second season leading the Bearcats, the former Ohio State defensive coordinator engineered a 10-2 regular season to have his team riding high despite a 4-8 record each of the previous two years.

The harsh reality at the end of this game came with comparing the 2017 result in the series, a routine 48-20 win for East Carolina in Greenville, to this season’s 56-6 decision for the Bearcats.

Like Temple and a few others in the AAC, Cincinnati is on the rise.

The Pirates are still stuck trying to find their identity and their niche in this league.

East Carolina does have a bright future in many ways, thanks mainly to the potential and talent of Ahlers, a freshman, leading a young core of a roster, but the current results on the field also are not settling well with fans. Tensions are super high in Greenville.

ECU Chancellor Cecil Staton has said publicly that Montgomery and the direction of the football program will be evaluated at season’s end.

The former Duke offensive coordinator could very much be facing a win-or-don’t-return afternoon in Raleigh.

Some history works in Montgomery’s favor. He has a 9-26 career record with three of those victories against lowly UConn, but he also is 1-0 against the Wolfpack and 1-0 versus North Carolina.

What happened to the Pirates on Black Friday in Cincinnati only added to the pressure Montgomery and the Pirates face to finish 4-8 instead of 3-9.

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

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