The ECU Pirates open their 2019 season on Saturday as they travel to Raleigh to take on the NC State Wolfpack for a noon kickoff on the ACC Network. Here’s everything you need to know.
ECU – Mike Houston (1st year)
NCSU – Dave Doeren (7th year)
ECU brings a coaching staff to Carter-Finley Stadium that is different than the one that was walloped in December. Houston takes over for Scottie Montgomery and starts his next chapter after succeeding at every other stop he’s been at to the tune of an 80-25 record in eight seasons at various levels. The previous three head coaches (Skip Holtz, Ruffin McNeil, and Scottie Montgomery) all won their first game at ECU, so it will be interesting to see if Houston can carry the streak. State meanwhile lost offensive coordinator Eli Drinkwitz to the App State head coaching job.
The Pirates are heading in with Holton Ahlers returning as the starting quarterback for his sophomore season. There’s a lot of excitement about him for this season after the way last year went. Ahlers took over as the starter beginning with the Pirates’ game against UCF in Greenville and steadily improved the rest of the way. He was dynamic, being the leading rusher. On the other side, State has to replace NFL-bound Ryan Finley. Doeren named Matt McKay the starting quarterback for week one.
NCSU has had a 1,000-yard rusher in three consecutive seasons; Matthew Dayes in 2016, Nyheim Hines in 2017 and Reggie Gallaspy last season. The Pirates never had that kind of ground success under Montgomery, with Ahlers as the leading rusher with 592 yards last season, Hussein Howe with 419 in 2017 and James Summers with 869 in 2016. Their last 1,000-yard rusher for a season was Vintavious Cooper in 2013.
Both teams lost a dominant wide receiver from a year ago. ECU lost Trevon Brown who posted back-to-back 1,000 yard receiving seasons to help offset the loss of Zay Jones. This season is the first one in a long time the Pirates have not had a clear-cut number one wideout to lean on. This game will reveal a lot as far as who may step up going forward. The Wolfpack lost Kelvin Harmon and Jakobi Meyers to the NFL after 1,000 yard receiving seasons a year ago.
ECU was improved on defense in 2018 with David Blackwell as defensive coordinator, but mostly because it was hard to be as bad as it was in 2017. They gave up 37 points per game and 439 yards per game. Now its Bob Trott’s turn. Meanwhile, State gave up just under 25 points per game and 392 yards per game.
The Pirates lost AAC DPOY Nate Harvey because of an NCAA ruling and don’t have four-star recruit Traveon Freshwater because of a more favorable NCAA ruling due to academics. They are still veteran-led at those spots though, bringing back Alex Turner (senior), Kendall Futrell (senior), Jalen Price (senior), and Chance Purvis (junior) on the defensive line.
The last time the teams played is well-remembered on both sides. State beat ECU 58-3 in Raleigh last December. David Blackwell served as interim head coach for the game after Montgomery was fired right before it. ECU came dangerously close to being shut out for the first time, if not for a 46-yard field goal from Jake Verity as time expired.
NCSU leads the all-time series between the two teams 17-13, although ECU has won 10 of the last 17. ECU heading to Raleigh for the matchup is nothing new, as 23 of the 30 games have taken place in Carter-Finley. Doeren is just 1-2 against the Pirates in his time in Raleigh, getting his first win in last season’s 58-3 finale win.
How you can watch:
The anticipated season opener between the in-state rivals is sold out. The noon kickoff will air on ESPN’s ACC Network and is available to most people on Suddenlink, DirecTV, and most streaming services. Most notably it is channel 286 (HD) on Suddenlink and, of course, available in the ESPN app.