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Johnson, other freshmen make impact for Pirates

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East Carolina's C.J. Johnson runs the ball during a game against William & Mary on Sept. 21, 2019.


By Jake Keator
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Early in the season, East Carolina football is looking to find its rhythm offensively and first-year coach Mike Houston is looking toward three freshmen to come up with production in wide receiver C.J. Johnson and running backs Demetrius Mauney and Tay Williams.

Johnson, who recorded five receptions for 46 yards in the Pirates' 19-7 victory over William & Mary on Saturday at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, passed a few milestones on the evening. The former D.H. Conley High School standout earned his first-career collegiate start, along with new highs in receptions and yardage. He finished third in receiving yards for ECU, behind Tyler Snead (five receptions, 67 yards) and Blake Proehl (4-51).

"I think he competed really well tonight," Houston said of Johnson. "I'd like to see him come down with that tough catch in the end zone in the second half, but C.J. has been improving. He has a great attitude. He's working really hard to learn how to play the game of football at the college level. We'll see exactly how he played tomorrow (on film), but we were happy to see him go out there and compete."

Junior center John Spellacy also earned his first start of the season over senior Brandon Pena, who also played in ECU's low-scoring victory in front of 38,094 fans at Dowdy-Ficklen.

Johnson, who totaled 239 receptions for 5,198 yards and 79 touchdowns during his time with the Vikings, arrived on campus with plenty of hype. He quickly solidified his place on the roster, reconnecting with another former Viking, starting quarterback Holton Ahlers.

Ahlers has completed a pass to Johnson in every game this season for the Pirates (2-2). Johnson currently has 10 receptions for 87 yards.

After being held to totals of 11, 13 and 17 yards, Johnson showed ECU fans what they can expect of the young wideout as he continue to develop and progress within the Pirate offense.

Williams (5 carries, 72 yards) and Mauney (8 carries, 24 yards) both saw action in the win, though Mauney exited the game in the second quarter with an injury. His departure opened the door for Williams to take the first snaps of his collegiate career.

Williams, a redshirt freshman unlike Johnson and Mauney who are true rookies, made sure to make the most of his first-career snap. He received an option pitch from Ahlers and busted through a hole on the right side and up the sideline 43 yards to put the Pirates in scoring position at the W&M 5-yard line. The drive ended in one of Jake Verity's four field goals, making it 13-7 Pirates late in the third quarter.

"It was great," Williams said of his first carry. "I just did the same things I've been doing in practice all season."

Contact Jake Keator at jkeator@reflector.com, 252-329-9594 and follow @JakeKeatorDR on Twitter.


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