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Ahlers could be out vs. Wolfpack

East Carolina Cincinnati Football-2

East Carolina freshman quarterback Holton Ahlers is sacked by Cincinnati defensive tackle Marquise Copeland (44) in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game, Friday, Nov. 23, 2018, in Cincinnati. (Kareem Elgazzar/The Cincinnati Enquirer via AP)

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

East Carolina starting quarterback Holton Ahlers has been dealing with a sprained right knee and injured non-throwing right hand for a few weeks, which prevented him from practicing Wednesday and leaves him questionable to play in Saturday’s season finale at rival N.C. State.

ECU coach Scottie Montgomery said conversations about Ahlers’ health and availability have picked up since Tuesday morning’s practice. Ahlers, who has been a wearing a knee brace and had his fingers taped during recent games, did not finish the Pirates’ 56-6 loss at Cincinnati last Friday.

“I have to take care of his health, and if he looks like he can’t protect himself and he looks like he looked in the second quarter of the last game, then we’ll make the decision based on the kid’s health,” Montgomery said after Wednesday’s practice. “I don’t know if I would term it as doubtful or probable or any of those NFL terms that they use, I just know that physically, yesterday, he wasn’t where I thought he should have been. He’s going to have to be a lot better than he was yesterday to have a thought process of putting him in the game.”

Wednesday’s post-practice comments came during Montgomery’s final media availability before Saturday.

The third-year coach, who has faced questions himself already this week about his long-term status with the Pirates, said Reid Herring is in line to start if Ahlers is not available.

Earlier this week, the coach said redshirt freshman Kingsley Ifedi is no longer in the mix.

“It will be closer to game time before I announce a decision, or even can get to that point,” Montgomery said. “I wanted to give him (Wednesday) to shut him down and then we’ll find out where he is. He is so tough and we’ll find out later in the week and go with what we decide.”

Herring started the first six games of the season, including a 41-19 win over North Carolina on Sept. 8 in which Ahlers also played as a rushing QB specialist for his season debut. Ahlers took over as the starter before the UCF game on Oct. 20. The left-handed former prized recruit from D.H. Conley High School is 1-4 as a starter, but even in losses he has provided glimpses of hope for the future for the struggling Pirates (3-8).

Ahlers was limited during Tuesday’s practice, but indicated then that he was going to be OK. That tone changed after Montgomery’s comments on Wednesday.

“I’m just a little banged-up and I don’t want to go into specifics, but I’ll be fine,” Ahlers said Tuesday.

Ahlers leads ECU in rushing with 592 yards and six touchdowns on 119 carries. He ranks fifth nationally among all true freshman quarterbacks in total yards with 2,377.

He was 8-for-22 for 184 yards, a touchdown, an interception and a lost fumble against Cincinnati for his lowest output as a starter. He averaged 364.25 passing yards in the previous four contests, including a career-high 449 yards and three TDs in a 59-41 loss to Memphis on Nov. 3.

“When he is 100 percent healthy, that makes a huge difference, and right now he is a little beat-up and not 100 percent,” offensive coordinator Tony Petersen said Tuesday. “You could see that out there a little bit (last week), but he also wants to play and he is one of the toughest kids we have on offense.”

Herring was 2-of-6 for 36 yards and two interceptions last Friday after replacing Ahlers.

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

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