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Pirates underclassmen shine on Senior Day

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As good as ECU’s victory in its home finale felt for the seniors, the Pirates may have showcased their future in the process.

Of the six touchdowns ECU scored in the team’s 48-20 victory over Cincinnati this past Saturday at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, only one was by a senior.

Junior quarterback Gardner Minshew and junior wide receiver Trevon Brown combined for a record-setting day. Brown caught nine passes for 270 yards — setting single-game ECU and American Athletic Conference records — and two touchdowns, while Minshew threw for 444 yards, the sixth most in Pirate history, along with four scores and zero turnovers.

“We are going to be able to see that connection another year at least,” head coach Scottie Montgomery said of the chemistry between Minshew and Brown. “It is kind of special to watch.”

But Brown wasn’t the only Pirate receiver making plays in the Pirates’ season-best outburst. With senior wide outs Davon Grayson and Quay Johnson unable to play due to injuries, and fellow senior Jimmy Williams limited with an injury of his own, former Southern Nash High star Tahj Deans, a redshirt freshman, stepped in and contributed a career-best five catches for 52 yards and the second touchdown of his career.

“You got a chance right there to see kind of what our team is going to look like next year. We found out Davon wasn’t going to be able to go pre-game and Tahj Deans was the next man up,” Montgomery said. “He went in there and did his job. That’s why you always have to be ready for your opportunity as a young player.”

Sophomore Deondre Farrier also contributed a touchdown catch, and even little-used 6-foot-4 receiver Terrell Green looked explosive on a reverse play early in the game.

Williams, who fought his way in for an 11-yard score in the first half, enjoyed witnessing several younger receivers get the chance to put together breakout performances in the home finale.

“I honestly feel like it shows almost the legacy of the wide receiver room at ECU, period,” said Williams, who was the only senior to score on the day. “All the guys that are coming through here. And now it’s like we’ve got the next guy coming up, then another guy coming up and that’s something we pride ourselves on as a receiver group. The guys before us went out there and balled, so we have to ball.”

The Pirates also appear to be settling in on two primary running backs as the season winds down. Underclassmen Hussein Howe and Darius Pinnix received all of the running back touches for ECU. Fresh off the first individual 100-yard rushing game of the season for the Pirates, Howe received 16 carries for 47 yards and a touchdown. Pinnix, a true freshman, toted the rock 10 times for 36 yards.

“I really like the two backs that we played,” Montgomery said. “They really helped us in the route game and in protection. We’re finally start to figure out our protection at running back.”

Defensively, redshirt freshman cornerback Keyshawn Canady’s recent emergence has allowed ECU to get aggressive and play press coverage. The former Wallace-Rose Hill High School product, along with sophomore Colby Gore, played a vital role in containing Cincinnati’s passing game to 189 yards. ECU allowed a season-low 326 yards in all.

JOHNSON GETS GAME BALL

This past Saturday wasn’t easy for Quay Johnson, but his teammates and coaches helped guide him through it.

The ECU standout receiver and former Knightdale High School product had to experience his Senior Day from a wheelchair, fresh out of surgery to repair a season-ending lower leg injury suffered the previous week against Tulane. Johnson, along with several classmates, was honored alongside his family for his career accomplishments in a ceremony at midfield prior to the game.

The Pirates’ win over Cincinnati came just one day after Johnson went under the knife, and it was remarkable in some aspects he was even able to take place in the ceremony. Following the game, Montgomery awarded the game ball to Johnson, who was greeted by each of his teammates in the tunnel following the game.

“Quay has been a guy since we got here that has gone up in every category,” Montgomery said on Monday. “He went up in his leadership, he went up in the classroom, he went up on the field and our guys respect that. Especially our young guys that are trying to do things like him. They like Quay, they want to be like Quay.

“So for him not to be able to play in this last game, we gave him the game ball after the game and the young guys, old guys, coaching staff, everybody went crazy because he is a guy that we talk about building a foundation for a program that will last.”

Johnson finished his career with 130 catches for 1,218 yards.

MEMPHIS SCOUTING REPORT

If ECU wants to close out its season with some positive momentum and build on its most recent win over Cincinnati, the Pirates must overcome a monster obstacle in Memphis in their season finale.

The No. 17 Tigers are 9-1, have clinched the AAC’s west division and appear poised for a Top 25 duel in the AAC championship the following weekend with this Saturday’s victor between AAC east rivals UCF and USF, both of which are ranked as well.

Memphis, which is led by standout quarterback Riley Ferguson (3,201 yards, 29 touchdowns, six interceptions) and wide receiver Anthony Miller (1,068 yards, 13 touchdowns), suffered its only loss to UCF early this season. The Tigers have notched signature wins this over UCLA, Navy and Houston.

Despite Memphis’ offense scoring at a clip of 44.2 points per game, the defense is allowing more than 32 points per contest.

“We might have to score a lot of points because they put up a lot of points,” offensive coordinator Tony Petersen said. “We just have to make sure we do our part, which would help keep the defense off the field. Running the football, running the clock a little bit.”

Kickoff on Saturday is set for noon from the Liberty Bowl. The game will be televised on ESPNU.

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