GREENVILLE, N.C. (ECU) — Threatening weather caused a few changes to some of the festivities surrounding East Carolina's annual Purple & Gold Spring Game on Saturday, but the contest itself went off on time and as scheduled without a hitch.
In a contest implementing a modified scoring system, the offense, wearing all white, steadily pulled away from the defense, in all purple, for a 71-36 victory on Bagwell Field inside Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
"You look at us today versus a month ago, and there's been tremendous improvement," first-year head coach Mike Houston said. "As far as what I felt best about, I thought the consistent way in which the offense moved the ball was pleasing to see. We had minimal errors on that side of the ball.
"On defense, we had our bright spots. Probably the biggest negative for the defense is the biggest positive for the offense, and that's ball security. We did not force any turnovers on defense, but we did a good job of taking care of it on offense."
The offense led by a single point after one quarter and was up 31-18 at halftime, then essentially put the game out of reach early in the fourth quarter on a 7-yard touchdown run by Darius Pinnix, making the score 54-29 with just more than 13 minutes remaining.
It was the second big play on the drive by Pinnix, who just a few snaps earlier had converted a fourth-and-2 from the defensive 27-yard line into a first down by surging through and carrying several would-be tacklers with him for an 8-yard gain.
Holton Ahlers, the quarterback on the drive, called it a defining moment.
"Last year I don't think we would've made that fourth-and-short there at the end of the game," he said. "I don't think we would've called that play. It's fourth-and-short and we're trying to put the ball in the end zone. To call a run play and get seven yards out of it is a big deal."
Pinnix carried the ball five times for 31 yards with the one score. He also had a pair of short receptions.
"Pinnix, just like he has been all spring, was solid today," Houston said. "The most impressive thing for me was the fourth down when we decided to go for it. We were in field-goal range, but I wanted to see how we would respond in that situation. We had a great surge at the line of scrimmage, and Pinnix, he's a load."
Pinnix showed his emotion after the touchdown, hurling the ball into the stands just like he told teammate Hussein Howe he would just before the drive started.
"Coach Houston likes us to bring energy to the field," he said. "That's not something I'll ever do in the regular season, but I was just having fun with the crowd and getting them more involved."
"Coach Houston said he'd better have been throwing it to his mom, but I don't know if he was or not," Ahlers joked. "He threw it pretty far. That was impressive."
Ahlers was in for six of the 15 possessions and finished 10-for-19 for 118 yards. His longest pass was an electrifying 48-yarder — the longest play of the day — to Blake Proehl, who was wearing a red jersey as he is coming back from an injury. That set up an 18-yard touchdown run by Howe that put the offense in front 42-27 midway through the third quarter.
Proehl had three catches for a game-best 69 yards, with one being a 2-yard touchdown from Reid Herring.
Howe was the leading rusher in the game with 15 carries for 71 yards. Herring completed 10-of-18 passes for 100 yards and Bryan Gagg was 2-for-2 for 18 as the quarterbacks combined for 22-for-39 passing for 236 yards and one score. Gagg also scored on an 18-yard run in the second quarter.
Tyler Snead was the leading receiver in terms of number of catches with four for 32 yards. Leroy Henley (43 yards), Mydreon Vines (41) and Jsi Hatfield (19) had three each.
The defense, which in the last scrimmage a week ago had four takeaways, earned points for things such as forced punts, tackles for loss, pass breakups, three-and-outs, sacks and fourth-down stops.
It got a big day from Aaron Ramseur who had nine stops, including two for losses. Chandon Hickerson had a pair of TFLs among his six tackles, and Xavier Smith had six tackles with one TFL. D'Angelo McKinnie had two TFLs, and Myles Berry, Khalil Barrett, Gerard Stringer, Dorian Hardy, Jalen Price (sack) and Chance Purvis had one each.
Daniel Charles, Colby Gore and Davondre Robinson had two pass breakups each.
"The spring went well, and today was a continuation of that," Robinson said. "Everybody was in the right spot and communicating like we should be. I had two pass breakups, but I should've picked one of them off."
Overall, the Pirates totaled four touchdowns and got a pair of field goals (40, 49 yards) from Jake Verity. Ahlers was behind center for two touchdowns — on his last two drives — and a field goal, and Herring led five possessions and was credited for a touchdown and a field goal.
"I expect significant development between now and fall camp," Houston said. "We need to be in much better conditioning shape. We have a chance to develop some of our young players this summer. And I'm telling you, (strength and conditioning coach John Williams) is as good as there is in his industry. He has a tremendous reputation, and I'm obviously a firm believer in him."
- Joe Corley
PURPLE-GOLD GAME STATISTICS
RUSHING: Hussein Howe (15-71, 1 TD), Darius Pinnix (5-31, 1TD), Holton Ahlers (5-24), Tay Williams (8-18), Bryan Gagg (3-14, 1 TD), Immanuel McLawhorn (2-12), Barry Smith (2-11), Caiden Norman (1-11), Cam Coleman (3-7), Zach Gwynn (1-<-2>), Reid Herring (3-<-7>). Totals –– 48-190 (4.0 ypr), 3 TD.
PASSING: Holton Ahlers (10-19-0, 118), Reid Herring (10-18-0, 100, 1 TD), Bryan Gagg (2-2-0, 18). Totals ––22-39-0, 236 yards, 1 TD.
RECEIVING: Tyler Snead (4-32), Blake Proehl (3-69, 1 TD), Leroy Henley (3-43), Mydreon Vines (3-41), Jsi Hatfield (3-19), Deondre Farrier (2-12), Darius Pinnix (2-2), Andre Pegues (1-12), Anthony Watley (1-6). Totals –– 22-236, 1 TD
TACKLES: Aaron Ramseur 9 (2 TFL/-4), Xavier Smith 6 (TFL/-2), Chandon Hickerson 6 (2 TFL/-6), Trey Love 6, Daniel Charles 4 (2 PBU), Myles Berry 4 (TFL/-2), Delvontae Harris 4, D'Angelo McKinnie 4 (2 TFL, sack/-10), Nolan Johnson 3, Damel Hickman 3, Khalil Barrett 3 (TFL/-2), Heath Parker 3, Rowe Mellott 2, Davondre Robinson 2 (2 PBU), Alex Angus 2, Colby Gore 2 (PBU), Gerard Stringer 2 (TFL/-1), Dorian Hardy 2 (TFL/-2), Jalen Price 2 (TFL, sack/-6), Michael Witherspoon 1, Ja'Quan McMillian 1, Da'Andre Beverly 1, Jaren Rainey 1, Chance Purvis 1 (TFL/-2), Hozey Haji-Badri 1
Jonn Young (6-245 – 40.8 ypp)
Michael Tilley (1-32 – 32.0 ypg)
TOTAL OFFENSE/TOTAL DEFENSE: 87-426 (4.9 ypp)
FUMBLES/LOST: 0/0; INTERCEPTIONS: 0
THIRD DOWN CONVERSIONS: 8-19 (42.1%) – Reid Herring (5-13), Holton Ahlers (2-7), Bryan Gagg (1-3), Zach Gwynn (0-1)
PENALTIES: 15 (8/OFFENSE, 7/DEFENSE)
QUARTERBACK FIRST DOWN/SCORING CHART (DRIVES)
Holton Ahlers – 9 first downs, 2 TD, 1 FG (punt, punt, FG, punt, TD, TD)
Reid Herring – 10 first downs, 1 TD, 1 FG (FG, punt, end of half, punt, TD)
Bryan Gagg – 4 first downs, 1 TD (TD, punt)
Zach Gwynn – 0 first downs (punt)
Caiden Norman – 3 first downs (end of half)
SCORING (4 TD, 2 FG):
1st QTR (5:36) – Jake Verity 40 FG
2nd QTR (6:18) – Verity 49 FG
2nd QTR (0:53) – Bryan Gagg 18 run (Verity kick)
3rd QTR (8:03) – Hussein Howe 18 run (Verity kick)
4th QTR (13:41) – Darius Pinnix 7 run (Verity kick)
4th QTR (2:15) – Blake Proehl 2 pass from Reid Herring (Verity kick)