The value of Saturday’s scrimmage is two-fold for the East Carolina football team, which got minute-to-minute feedback on the field by players and also now has film for all coaches and players to fully digest as the Pirates and first-year head coach Mike Houston continue to strive forward and prepare for their trip to Raleigh on Aug. 31 to play rival N.C. State.

Houston said immediately after the scrimmage at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium that, naturally, he saw good and bad moments.

Only one procedural penalty on offense was a bright spot and miscues included a few drops by receivers late in the scrimmage, but the coach mainly wanted to hold judgement until watching film.

“You just don’t know exactly how it is going to go or what to expect, but I think we had a fairly positive first week (of preseason camp) and I think today showed us exactly where we are,” Houston said. “We have a lot of work to do in a lot of areas, but we also have come a long way. ... We did have some turnovers, but why did we have them is what we need to look at.

“Some of the mistakes, we need see what happened. Was it a young guy in a situation for the first time or was it communication? Some of that stuff we need to look at on film.”

Holton Ahlers’ day included three rushing touchdowns. One of the rushing scores came from 56 yards by the sophomore quarterback who led the Pirates last season in rushing yards as a part-time rookie starter.

“It was a great offseason program with speed and agility and also strength, and it does help that I feel healthy now and my knee is 100 percent,” said Ahlers, a Greenville native who missed ECU’s season-finale in 2018, a 58-3 loss at N.C. State only two days after then-head coach Scottie Montgomery was fired. “I feel good out there running. I feel fast because of that offseason program (under director of strength and conditioning John Williams).”

Ahlers and junior Reid Herring continued to split reps with the first- and second-team offense. Herring passed for 165 yards. Mydreon Vines caught a TD pass from Ahlers.

“I think (the scrimmage) can be very valuable,” Herring said. “We had a lot of big plays, but also a couple things we need to work on and some plays we need to make and a couple plays we missed. Overall, I think it went pretty well and the tape will be really good for us.”

Houston noted that Saturday’s game-like setting was especially valuable for rookies who officially joined the team about a week ago.

“We have TowneBank Tower here now completed and it was the first time for a lot of these freshmen in this setting, so it was great weather today with a nice breeze out here and really a great day for a scrimmage,” he said. “I told them that this is the most valuable film that we have up to this point in camp. We had officials and coaches weren’t out on the field and everybody is on the sideline, so you have to operate on your own. This was the first time that they had to go out and operate like a football team.”

Jake Verity made all of his field goal and extra-point kicks.

The team will have Sunday off before beginning another full week of practices. ECU’s second and final preseason scrimmage is set for next Saturday.

“You just have to keep getting better every single day, so we have 21 days to get better,” Ahlers said. “By that time, we will be ready. You can never be too ready to play, but Aug. 31 we will be ready.”

Three answers

1. How was quarterback play? During the portion of the scrimmage that was open to the media, Herring connected on a long completion down the sideline and Ahlers ran up the middle for a pretty easy touchdown. They both scrambled and used their running ability well to get out of the pocket. Ahlers finished with six carries for 113 yards.

2. Big impact by Demetrius Mauney? Houston said that the run game was inconsistent at times, which is in part a credit to ECU’s defensive line. Mauney and Trace Christian both ran with the second-team offense late in the scrimmage.

3. Who steps up on defense? Linemen Kendall Futrell and Alex Turner continue to be leaders and productive on the field. Linebacking play included Aaron Ramseur taking a perfect route to the ball-carrier and completing a tackle for a third-down stop. Also, a nice pass breakup by freshman Malik Fleming (see below).

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