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Conley coach lauds opportunistic defense

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By Laieke Abebe
The Daily Reflector

Monday, June 24, 2019

Prep teams from all over North Carolina and Virginia took the fields at North Recreation Complex on Saturday with bragging rights on the line during East Carolina football’s annual Beast of the East 7-on-7 tournament.

Representing Pitt County was D.H. Conley, which made its mark especially on the defensive end.

The day started off well for Conley, as coach Nate Conner’s squad took down E.E. Smith from Fayetteville, 14-7, in its first contest. That was followed by a 36-6 win over East Carteret.

“Our kids competed well,” Conner said of the entire event. "I was proud of the way we fought in the second half of our first game. Defensively, we made some good plays and our coverage was good. We showed a lot of discipline on offense and the routes were crisp from our receivers.”

In their second game, the Vikings, who went 9-4 in 2018, forced turnovers on the Mariners' first four possessions. From there, they were surgical offensively led by rising senior quarterback Nick Hamilton and wide receiver Matthew Rostar.

Rostar will have to be a part of a team effort to fill the void left by the graduation of now-ECU wide receiver C.J. Johnson. On hand to take in the day's events were former Conley star quarterback Holton Ahlers, who is the Pirates' projected starting QB as a sophomore, and first-year ECU head coach Mike Houston.

Three-time defending 4-AA state champion Wake Forest won the Beast of the East championship with a clean 7-0 record.

A 30-26 win over Ben L. Smith from Greensboro had the Vikings at 3-0 to start the afternoon.

There were some improvements still needed that stuck with Conner, but his team was ready to compete.

“Seeing great competition can help us prepare for the rest of the summer and the upcoming season,” he said. "Anytime we can win the turnover battle, we’ll be in a good position to succeed.”

Conley ended up dropping its last two games of the day, falling first to 3-A/4-A Eastern Carolina Conference foe C.B. Aycock, 24-21, but the Vikes still advanced to the eight-team final bracket thanks to their overall record during the afternoon.

Panther Creek ousted Conley, 28-20, in the quarterfinals.

Overall, the Vikings enjoyed getting to play against some excellent competition throughout the day.

“This is the realest football we can play right now,” Conner said about the 7-on-7 aspect. “We want to make big plays on defense and keep good habits on both sides of the ball. I’m extremely happy with how we competed for most of the day, but we still have some things we’d like to improve.”

Like last year, the Vikings will open their season against Elizabeth City Northeastern, the defending 2-A East regional champion, on Aug. 23. Conley fell in last season's matchup, 42-34, in Greenville.

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