Greenville - GREENVILLE, N.C. - Sophomore quarterback Rob Kass passed for 231 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including a game-winning 77-yarder to classmate Jamar Bryant early in the fourth quarter, to highlight East Carolina's annual spring game Saturday afternoon at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
Kass, who finished the contest completing 10-of-21 passes while splitting time with both squads, also opened the scoring by connecting with senior wide receiver Phillip Henry on a 55-yard toss on the game's fifth play from scrimmage to spark ECU to a 20-13 win over the Pirates.
After the Pirates rallied back from a 13-6 deficit to tie the contest on freshman Kevin Gidrey's one-yard scoring plunge with 24 seconds to play in the third quarter, Kass capped a brief three-play, 88-yard drive by hitting Bryant on a deep route during ECU's first possession of the final quarter.
East Carolina's three quarterbacks who own positions on the program's current depth chart, rotated turns leading each squad throughout the contest. In addition to Kass' final numbers, junior Patrick Pinkney completed eight-of-24 passes for 67 yards and an interception while sophomore Brett Clay was 10-of-21 for 96 yards. As ECU's signal-caller, Kass found a receiver on six-of-11 throws for 174 yards which included the two long TD strikes.
Senior Chris Johnson led all rushers, picking up 93 yards on 20 carries for ECU while redshirt freshman Norman Whitley led the Pirates with 41 yards on eight carries - an average of 5.1 yards per attempt. ECU's Bryant topped receivers with 122 reception yards on just four catches while the Pirates' Alex Taylor grabbed a game-high five passes for 40 yards.
ECU added to its 7-0 lead with a 21-yard Ben Hartman field goal with 9:00 to play in the opening period. Hartman, who experienced action in four games last season as a freshman, was perfect on four kicks during the afternoon - successfully converting a pair of extra-point attempts and adding a 44-yarder midway through the third quarter to give ECU a 13-6 cushion. Redshirt freshman Murphy Paderick helped rally the Pirates back, drilling 35-yard and 22-yard three-pointers in the second quarter to trim the margin to 10-6 at halftime.
Both teams played to a near statistical draw as ECU picked up 354 yards while the Pirates finished the contest with 299 yards. Combined, the pair of squads generated a total of 653 yards on 150 plays, an average of 4.4 yards per snap.
In addition, ECU and the Pirates combined for five turnovers, two of which led directly to field goals for both squads. Hartman's first field goal came as a result of sophomore Van Eskridge's hit and subsequent fumble recovery following a Dwayne Harris pass catch while Paderick's initial trifecta came after sophomore Scotty Robinson's recovery of a Kass fumble at the ECU 16-yard line. Eskridge and freshman Travis Simmons also recorded interceptions, stepping in front of Kass and Pinkney pass attempts, respectively. In addition, both teams were whistled a combined five times for 36 yards.
After Hartman's 44-yarder extended ECU's lead to 13-6 with 9:31 to play, the rotating Kass directed the Pirates on a 10-play, 90-yard march that was capped by Gidrey's one-yard plunge with 24 left. A key pass interference call on a third-on-10 play at their own 21-yard line kept the drive alive before Kass hooked up with senior Juwon Crowell on a 45-yard first-down deep out completion that moved the ball to the ECU 13-yard line. Three possessions later, Kass guided ECU on its game-winning drive early in the fourth quarter which ended with the long strike to Bryant.
Defensively, Pirate junior linebacker Jarrett Wiggins topped all tacklers with 12 stops while senior tackle Wendell Chavis turned in 10 and sophomore end C.J. Wilson added seven to go along with his game-high two sacks and pair of forced fumbles. Redshirt freshman cornerback Dekota marshall finished with nine stops and two pass breakups to lead East Carolina. Sophomore safety Chris Mattocks and sophomore linebacker Lorenzo Osborne each chipped in with eight stops while junior Marcus Hands contributed six hits.
QUOTING EAST CAROLINA HEAD COACH Skip Holtz
"There are a lot of positives and a lot of negatives. I thought that a few of the skill players really stepped up and played well and the three running backs played hard. It is good to see them run as well as they did and I think those three are going to be fine. I really like our defensive line - I think they could be very good. Our offensive line is still really young and they make a lot of mistakes. Right now, when you take the offensive line and split them in half and put them on two teams, we don't have two solid units yet, and that was pretty obvious today. We're still not there and we have to make all the little adjustments. Today, when Coach (Greg) Hudson was doing some things defensively, giving a little different look, I don't think they adapted very well. We still have a ways to go, and we need every day we can get from now to our first game, but I'm pleased with the progress we are making right now."
On the quarterback 'situation' ...
"As for the quarterback situation, I thought Rob Kass really, really played pretty well today. I don't think any of the three did any really foolish things. There are some things however but I know that on Patrick Pinkney's interception, the wide receiver ran the wrong route. There are some things like that which may make the quarterback look bad, but it's not really his fault. I thought the quarterbacks really played well today, but I think Rob really separated himself. He really played well today and it's good to see him get in front of a crowd like that and play as well as he did. He made a couple of really nice throws and I believe he was the quarterback on all three touchdown drives."
On Rob Kass' arm and the long ball adding to the offense ...
"He had a couple of really good ones. He hit Phillip Henry on the opening drive and I thought he threw a great strike to Jamar Bryant there in the middle of the field, who was very well covered. He got about a half step there, made a nice adjustment to the ball and made a nice catch but it was Rob's strength. I mean, you look at Pinkney's athleticism and Brett Clay is kind of a combination of the two. Rob may not have the feet as the other two have, but he is a big body that can stay in there and take a shot and throw the ball. He does it extremely well."
On the end of spring practice ...
I'm encouraged. I think we are better in so many positions, but I'm still not satisfied. We're not ready to play, in fact, we're a long ways away from being ready to play. I'm encouraged because we are making some plays, we're throwing, we're making some strides, but still a long way away from being where we need to be in order to be competitive against the schedule we have, especially early in the season."
On summer workouts ...
"The summer is critical as we'll be entering phase three. We are looking forward to the summer - I think it's the only time not regulated by the NCAA. There's no limitations to the type of commitments that the players can make and I think if this team wants to make the type of strides we need to make, then I think they will understand how important the summer has to be to us. Everybody in the country has 15 practices in the spring, everybody did winter workouts so we really have to make some ground up when we get into the summer. Again, that is critical to our success in the fall."
On what grade the program earned after spring practices ...
"I think every position would get a different grade. Going through it, the development and improvement of the offensive line I would say it would be an A because I'm so excited to have 12 or 13 guys that we are rolling in there. On the other hand, when it comes to if we are ready to play, I'd have to go with a C or D when you have to put five together to play at this moment, so there are a lot of variables. The only thing that is really great this point is that I know their attitude, their effort, their confidence in their abilities, their desire to be good is certainly an A. I think this team wants to be good, and we say it all the time - one thing we can control is to make sure we are as good as we can be, and the only way we can do that is coming out here everyday and giving a great effort. This team is already doing that."