Big Plays Highlight Pirates' Second Scrimmage

GREENVILLE, N.C. — ECU completed the second of its three spring scrimmages inside Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

In spurts of its second intra-squad spring scrimmage, East Carolina showed flashes of becoming the prolific offense that has become such a large part of this program's identity since sixth-year coach Ruffin McNeill returned to his alma mater in 2010.

And for the first time this spring, there were some big plays made down the field.

Sophomore Kurt Benkert, the frontrunner to start under center this fall, found senior receiver Bryce Williams for 54-yards and hit Davon Grayson for 51 more. Then it was Benkert’s top competitor, junior southpaw Blake Kemp, connecting with Grayson for a 29-yard gain.

“The offense did a good job rebounding back and threw the long ball well today. I thought both quarterbacks operated the offense well,” McNeill said. “(Benkert) has been in the offense longer, but Blake did a good job today.”

Benkert was 8 of 17 on his passes for 154 yards and linked up with sophomore Trevon Brown for a 12-yard score. Meanwhile, Kemp finished 10 for 18 for 78 passing yards.

Running backs Anthony Scott and Chris Hairston scampered in for rushing touchdowns too as the offense, collectively, amassed 351 yards in the 71-play scrimmage (4.9 yards per play) inside Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

More importantly for the quarterbacks, though, neither Benkert of Kemp turned the ball over. However, the Pirates were flagged for eight penalties (6 on offense, 2 defense), which included four holdings and two illegal formation infractions.

“You’ve got to cut them both out,” Benkert said, when asked about turnovers and penalties. “If I don’t put the ball in jeopardy, then we don’t turn it over. If we don’t hold somebody tight by the jersey and let our arms get out, then we don’t have a hold. It’s stuff that we can control, so we can cut them out and be a lot better.”

Kurt Benkert was 8 for 17 passing in ECU’s second spring scrimmage.
(Rob Goldberg/ECU Media Relations)
First-year offensive coordinator Dave Nichol said he’s “not real close” to naming a starting quarterback and hinted that the competition would likely not be decided until fall camp. Junior Cody Keith, who is being held out of spring workouts as he continues to recover from elbow surgery, is expected to return to the mix over the summer, according to Nichol.

In the latter stages of the scrimmage, the Pirates’ third-team defense forced two turnovers. First, freshman safety Drew Turnage forced a fumble — which junior linebacker Drayfon Fairley recovered — then sophomore Trevian Hicks picked off Ray Smith on the scrimmage’s final play.

Despite the defense’s strong finish, third-year coordinator Rick Smith was not pleased with the large gains his starters allowed.

“We gave up two deep balls, and you just can’t do that,” he said. “I’m upset with them. I told them either they were going to get fired or I was, and they are going to get fired before I do.”

On a more positive note, the defense earned stops on 16 of the 20 third-down plays that were ran on Saturday and limited the Pirates’ ground attack to just 66 yards on 28 carries (2.4 yards per rush). ECU defenders combined for eight tackles-for-loss and four different players logged a team-best four tackles.

But the highlight of the scrimmage maybe came on ECU’s final touchdown of the afternoon.

Walk-on receiver Jonathan Stanley, who is eight months removed from suffering a gruesome ankle injury in fall camp, caught a screen pass from Smith and tucked into the corner of the end zone for an eight-yard score.

After crossing the goal line, Stanley was greeted with a hug and loud cheers from fellow receiver Cedric Thompson, who was soon joined by several more Pirates to celebrate with Stanley.

“It felt good to actually get in and score, and then just have everybody be proud of me,” said Stanley. “Breaking the ankle, it’s been hard to come back, but with the spring, I feel like I’m getting there.”

ECU will conduct three more practices at the Cliff Moore Practice Complex next week, leading up to next Saturday’s annul Purple-Gold Spring Game at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

Here are the full statistics from the second scrimmage:

RUSHING: Marquez Grayson (6-44), Cory Hunter (3-16), Anthony Scott (4-15, 1 TD), Chris Mangus (3-14), Derrell Scott (1-0), Chris Hairston (7-<-2>, 1 TD), Kurt Benkert (1-<-5>), Blake Kemp (3-<-16>). Totals –– 28-66 (2.4 ypr), 2 TD.

PASSING: Kurt Benkert (17-8-0, 153 yards, 1 TD), Blake Kemp (18-10-0, 78 yards), Ray Smith (8-5-1, 54 yards, 1 TD). Totals –– 43-23-1, 285 yards, 2 TD (53.5%).

RECEIVING: Jacen Murphy (3-19), Isaiah Jones (3-16), Davon Grayson (2-80), Chris Hairston (2-25), Anthony Scott (2-3), Bryce Williams (1-54), Beau Huffman (1-26), Chris Mangus (1-14), Trevon Brown (1-12, 1 TD), Jonathan Stanley (1-8, 1 TD), Brandon Bishop (1-8), Cedric Thompson (1-5), Brian Hardy (1-5), Derrell Scott (1-4), Malik Gray (1-3), Jimmy Williams (1-3). Totals –– 23-285, 2 TD

TACKLES: Dashawn Benton 4, Travon Simmons 4, Demetri McGill 4 (TFL/-3 yards), Johnathon White 4 (TFL/-6 yards, sack/-6 yards), Zeek Bigger 3, Corey Seargent 3 (TFL/-6 yards), Drew Turnage 3 (FF), Yiannis Bowden 3 (TFL/-6 yards, sack/-6 yards), Montese Overton 2 (PD), Reece Speight 2 (TFL/-5 yards, sack/-5 yards), Terrell Richardson 2, Tony Baird 2, Jordan Williams 2, Drayvon Fairley 2 (FR), Kirk Donaldson 2 (TFL/-5 yards, sack/-5 yards), Cam White 2, Mike Myers 2, Joe Allely 1 (TFL/-1 yard), Dayon Pratt 1, Xavier Smith 1, Bobby Fulp 1, Pat Green 1, Travis Phillips 1 (PD), Austin Teague 1, Ray Tillman 1 (PD), Trevian Hicks 1 (INT), Randall Anderson 1 (TFL/-3 yards), Cole Pickard 1, Josh Hawkins 0 (PD)



INTERCEPTIONS: 1 (Trevian Hicks)

THIRD DOWN CONVERSIONS: 4-20 (20.0%) – Blake Kemp (3-10), Kurt Benkert (1-8), Ray Smith (0-2)

FOURTH DOWN CONVERSIONS (when attempted): 1-2 (50.0%) – Blake Kemp (1-2), Kurt Benkert (0-0), Ray Smith (0-0)

PENALTIES: 8 (6/OFFENSE – 4 holding, 2 illegal formation; 2/DEFENSE – 1 pass interference, 1 holding)


Kurt Benkert – 7 first downs, 2 TD (downs, downs, downs, TD, TD, downs)

Blake Kemp –6 first downs, 1 TD (downs, TD, downs, downs, downs, downs, downs)

Ray Smith –– 2 first downs, 1 TD (TD, turnover, turnover)

SCORING: TD – 4; FG – 0

Anthony Scott 1-yard run (Connor Torruella PAT)

Chris Hairston 2-yard run (Davis Plowman PAT)

Trevon Brown 12-yard pass from Kurt Benkert (Alex Mattes PAT)

Jonathan Stanley 8-yard pass from Ray Smith (Torruella PAT)

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