Defense, special teams control ECU football’s first scrimmage

Published: Aug. 8, 2020 at 3:10 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 8, 2020 at 7:04 PM EDT
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GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - East Carolina’s defense enjoyed a decisive upper hand during the Pirates’ first preseason scrimmage Saturday morning at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

The swarming unit, under the leadership of new coordinator Blake Harrell, forced seven turnovers and logged five sacks while limiting the ECU offense to just one touchdown and four field goals during the 94-play fully officiated contest. The Pirates netted five interceptions - two by junior transfer Robert Kennedy - and recovered a pair of fumbles.

Senior kicker Jake Verity converted 31, 22, 44 and 38-yard field goals, but also had another 44-yarder blocked by redshirt freshman Juan Powell.

“There were some good and bad today,” head coach Mike Houston said. “Just like every scrimmage, I always say the head coach is usually the only one that is happy with everything. One side of the ball has had a good day and the other side of the ball had a bad day usually.”

Offensively, the Pirates logged a combined 46 rushes and a rotation of quarterbacks consisting of Holton Ahlers, Bryan Gagg, Mason Garcia, Taji Hudson, Ryan Stubblefield and Alex Flinn collectively completed 19-of-48 passes. Stubblefield, a true freshman, guided ECU to its only touchdown of the game by connecting with Cam Burnette on a 23-yard scoring toss during the latter stages of the action.

Of East Carolina’s 21 overall offensive possessions, 16 ended in stops either via downs, punts or turnovers.

Malik Fleming, Teylor Jackson and Jireh Wilson also added picks, while Wilson and Jason Romero each tallied fumble recoveries.

In all, the Pirates’ offense was held to just four plays of 20-plus yards. A 30-yard Stubblefield-to-Tyler Savage pass marked the longest aerial gain, while Demetrius Mauney’s 26-yard run was the longest producer on the ground.

“Early on in the preseason you see typically the defense a little bit ahead of the offense and I think that is what we saw today,” Houston added. “I thought we had tremendous energy on the defensive sideline and on the field, flying around like they are supposed to. I think the changes that we have made and the adjustments we have made in the offseason, the hard work and dedication that Coach Harrell and the staff have put in to changing our scheme and the job they have done with those kids were very evident today. I was really pleased with the way they competed.”

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