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East Carolina continues to nosedive as a program, losing to North Carolina A&T 28-23

The #FCSOverFBS upset strikes in Greenville.

A&T head coach Sam Washington celebrating after the win.
The East Carolinian

The season opening game between East Carolina University and NC Agricultural and Technical State University would build up Pirate fans’ hopes and end in disappointment.

Pirate fans filled up Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Saturday night, only to be met with a weather delay. Then fans came back on Saturday, the Pirates’ new introduction video played on the video board, and the iconic “Purple Haze” played as the team ran out onto the field. The excitement had been built up and the game was set to start, until another weather delay ensued, the game would be postponed until Sunday at 3:30, and disappointed fans would have to wait longer.

When ECU (0-1) and A&T (2-0) took the field Sunday afternoon, it was much of the same for Pirate fans as the night before. Pirate fans had built up a lot of excitement leading up to the season, from coaches and players preaching improvement and progress. For the majority of the game, ECU looked the part of a much-improved team. In the end, ECU could not overcome bad mistakes and a head-scratching final drive in a 28-23 loss, making it two seasons in a row starting with a loss to an FCS team.

ECU had advantages over A&T in total plays (50-26), first downs (17-7) passing yards (180-67) and total offense (224-113), and the Aggies had 14 penalties worth 113 yards. Despite all of that, ECU never had a bigger lead than its 17-7 lead in the second quarter and could not pull away.

Since the Pirates did not pull away, the mistakes caught up and were too much for them to overcome. Redshirt sophomore Reid Herring threw a pick-six inside of the Aggies 10 in the first quarter to give A&T a 7-3 lead. The Aggies recovered a fumble by redshirt freshman running back Trace Christian that came two yards shy of the end zone in the third quarter. Multiple red zone trips that did not yield points, and opportunities to take the lead in the fourth quarter that eventually ended in the ball being turned over on downs. However, no mistake was bigger than the final drive, one Montgomery admitted the Pirates mismanaged down the stretch.

ECU took over with 2:07 left in the fourth quarter and had driven down to the Aggies’ 30 with under a minute left and the clock running. ECU had no timeouts and were scrambling, but wide receiver Deondre Farrier went to the sideline which sent the team into confusion. Wide receiver Leroy Henley went on to the field, but was unsure of where to line up with the clock ticking. The Pirates just managed to get set in time to snap the ball, and Herring’s hail mary pass went off of wide receiver Taj Deans’ hands and into a defenders for an interception.

Those mistakes are what will be remembered most, but ECU had plenty of good moments that would be remembered had it won. Herring, in his first career start, finished 37-of-65 for 309 yards and two touchdowns. Herring was hard on himself after the game, lamenting the throw he considered to be a large factor in why ECU lost.

The defense played better than it did all of last season, keeping the Aggies to under 100 yards rushing, under 200 yards passing and 15 first downs. The defense was keyed by the stand-out play of senior defensive end Nate Harvey, who led the team with eight tackles. Harvey was not nearly as concerned with his individual play after the Pirates heartbreaking finish.

The Pirates have a quick turnaround now until their next game against the University of North Carolina on Saturday. Montgomery said it should not be hard for everyone to get re-excited for the rivalry matchup.

Montgomery said it was tough to think about the positives because of the feeling he had from the outcome of the game. Despite the mistakes and disappointment from the opening weekend, the team is keeping a good attitude and remains focused on the future.