East Carolina looked a bit off-beat as it opened the 2014 season under the lights in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, but quickly found its rhythm to claim a 52-7 win over North Carolina Central.
NCCU opened up the scoring when Breon Allen fumbled and C.J. Moore recovered it and ran 31 yards into the end zone. ECU's defense made sure that would be the only points earned by the Eagles.
“It gives us a lot of confidence,” said linebacker Zeek Bigger on the field following the game. “Like I say, that's the way everybody wants to do it. Teams always want to come out here and leave teams with no points on the board. Sometimes that doesn't happen, but as long as you have more points than the other team at the end of the game, you're successful.”
ECU's defense played with plenty of intensity throughout the evening. The front seven and linebacker corps hit hard and often, only stopping to pump up the crowd between plays. Zeek Bigger led the squad with 11 tackles, which is a career high for him.
The intensity exuded by the defense certainly spread to the rest of the team.
“We love getting it rowdy in Dowdy,” said Bigger. “When it's rowdy in Dowdy, there's no stopping us...it pumps us up a lot. It pumps this whole stadium up a lot. Once this stadium starts getting electricity going, we start getting ready.”
Once the offense hit its stride, it didn't look back. It took some time for things to really fall in place, though. After falling behind, ECU made its way down the field, but was stalled by NCCU's defense and settled for a 34-yard field goal by Warren Harvey.
One trick play later and the offense exploded. Justin Hardy channeled his time as a quarterback in high school on a trick play that saw him launch a 41-yard touchdown pass to Isaiah Jones. That was the second career touchdown throw for Hardy—his first being a 37-yard pass to Jones last year versus Florida International.
“We had that struggle,” said Jones. “We hit that bump at the beginning of the game. I think that play that the coaches drew up really pushed us over that bump. We were able to come out here and just play well with the team.”
Jones produced a highlight-reel game. Even with so many receivers getting touches, he managed to stand out. He hauled in 10 of the 45 balls thrown between Shane Carden and backup quarterback Kurt Benkert. His 150 receiving yards marks a new career high for the sophomore.
The Pirates would go on to tally six more touchdowns. It didn't take long for the duo of Carden and Hardy to hit the scoreboard for the first time this season. Carden connected with Hardy on a 20-yard pass and a short, one-yard toss minutes apart in the second quarter.
Plenty of younger faces made an impact, too. Freshman Trevon Brown's first career reception ended up as a 17-yard touchdown via Carden. Freshmen running backs Marquez Grayson and Anthony Scott had seven carries apiece and combined for 141 yards on the ground, despite the fact that most of the game was played in the air.
“They did a great job,” said Carden of his freshmen teammates. “Anthony Scott was doing great. (He had) a great run. We knew he had speed. It was fun to finally see him get that run there and the touchdown. I thought 88 (Trevon Brown) had a great night making those plays. I wish I could have gotten a couple more to him.”
The team is now under head coach Ruffin McNeill's 24-hour rule. They'll take some time to relax before reconvening tomorrow to watch the film and begin preparing for next week's clash with South Carolina.