GREENVILLE, N.C. – Plenty of physical play, a long interception return for a touchdown and a combined 383-yard passing performance from quarterbacks Patrick Pinkney and Rob Kass keyed East Carolina's second scrimmage of preseason camp Saturday afternoon at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
Pinkney guided the first team offense to three field goals and hooked up with sophomore Jonathan Williams on a 34-yard scoring strike to set the offensive tone. Kass connected with sophomore T.J. Terrell and senior T.J. Lee on 30- and 23-yard touchdown passes, respectively, and led the second offensive unit to a 50-yard field goal by freshman Ben Ryan.
During the contest's second series, senior safety J.J. Milbrook picked off a Kass pass and returned it 92 yards for a touchdown to help spark the first defensive unit.
In the opening half, each No. 1 unit faced off against the No. 2 squad across the line of scrimmage while the second period featured a more traditional matchup of equal levels of the preseason depth chart. In addition, the Pirates emphasized situational field position work throughout the contest, initiating possessions at various yard-line locations and utilizing clock management to close out the action.
“There were a lot of positive things I saw out here today,” head coach Skip Holtz said. “I think the way the guys are hitting is a positive. The guys are running around, playing hard, and playing with a lot of passion and enthusiasm.”
Holtz also featured a heavy dose of special teams work during the scrimmage, covering all phases of the kicking game. In the absence of veteran Ben Hartman, who has missed the entire camp because of an upper leg injury, Ryan and junior Matt Dodge have shared the placekicking duties for the Pirates thus far. Ryan added 25, 42 and 18-yarders to his 50-yard effort in five total attempts while Dodge connected on 25 and 18-yard field goals in four total tries.
“Right now there’s just so much instability with the kicking game,” Holtz explained. “We’ve got a new holder and we’ve got Ben Hartman still out with an injury. I’m probably being a little bit unfair to Matt Dodge because he’s trying to punt, kickoff and do field goals. But I thought Ben Ryan did a nice job hitting the 50-yard field goal. But then we go put it on the right hash at the 10-yard-line and we miss two kicks to the right.”
Senior Brandon Simmons, who opened the game competing with the Pirates' top offensive unit, enjoyed a strong start with runs of 15 and 26 yards to finish the day with 59 yards on just five carries. Williams and junior J.R. Rogers experienced action with both units while sophomore Norman Whitley ran with the second unit most of the afternoon.
“Brandon is playing like a workhorse right now,” Holtz said. “He’s a big strong senior that is physical and is doing a great job for us. So far he has had a phenomenal camp, and with Dominique [Lindsay] out, he’s really going to have to step it up and carry a bigger part of the load.
“We have three very talented backs behind him in Jonathan Williams, Norman Whitley and J.R. Rogers,” Holtz continued. “But as I told them, they are going to be evaluated today, but not when they have the ball in their hands. I’m going to make a decision about who is going to be number two by who plays without the ball, who steps up in pass protections, who’ll run block and who’ll do all the little things. That’s what this scrimmage was about - those three guys coming out and competing for that second spot because it’s still wide open. All three are talented - they can all run and do things when they put the ball under their arm. I just want to find out who is going to play every single down for us.”
Lee, one of 11 pass-catchers during the scrimmage, spearheaded a receiver's corps with a seven-reception, 116-yard effort. The tight end duo of senior Davon Drew (5-72) and sophomore Kevin Gidrey (2-28) enjoyed active roles Saturday, racking up a combined 100 yards on seven catches.
Defensively, a quartet of Pirates (Melvin Patterson, Robert Jones, Chris Mattocks and Steve Spence) led the way with six tackles. Junior C.J. Wilson recorded two of five total sacks (-11 yards) and finished with five stops. Seniors Dalvon Mack (-4) and Zack Slate (-1), along with freshman Matt Thompson (-5), were credited with other quarterback drops during the afternoon.
During the contest-closing goal line drills, the offense edged out the defense on three separate best-of-three series from the two-yard line. After Darnell Ballard's pair of scores gave the No. 3 unit a victory and the No. 2 defense stuffed the offense in two straight plays, the No. 1's split their first two snaps before Williams rumbled over into the endzone for the clincher.