FIRST DOWN: KEEPING WITH KEMP
Blake Kemp’s first start in three games paid dividends for East Carolina head coach Ruffin McNeill and offensive coordinator Dave Nichol.
Kemp, who now owns a 5-2 record as a starter this season, was finally called on to start the game in place of incumbent James Summers, who sports an 0-4 record as a starter. It seemed like an obvious move for McNeill and Nichol, but given their inability to work Kemp in during the USF and UConn game the decision was still a game-time call.
In a game that was a must-win for the Pirates, Kemp delivered, and propelled them to a critical fifth win, taking care of business against a winless and hapless UCF team. He finished 34-of-50, with 448 yards and four touchdowns, his best performance since the game against Florida in Week 2.
What’s more, Kemp got the ball into the playmakers’ hands — something that Summers has admittedly struggled with. The team’s best playmaker and perhaps best offensive player Isaiah Jones was involved early and often. He hauled in 13 receptions for 164 yards. In comparison, Jones had just 93 receiving yards combined in the prior two contests, both Summers starts.
It was the right call — starting Kemp — and Summers entered the game in the latter stages, with the outcome already in hand, albeit with little success. The performance should solidify Kemp as the starter for season-finale with Cincinnati on Saturday.
Perhaps consider it a lesson learned. One can only speculate as to whether or not the final game of the season would decide ECU’s bowl fate had Kemp started one of the four Summers’ winless starts.
What if’s mean nothing at the end of the day and now Kemp holds the keys to the Pirate offense in a do-or-die situation.
SECOND DOWN: DEFENSE MAKES STATEMENT
The Pirates entered the game with everything to lose. A bowl game was on the line, the Knights were only a season removed from tearing the hearts out of ECU on Senior Night.
The 0-11 Knights played as bad as their winless record indicated. And ECU asserted its dominance early and often. In fact, on the opening kickoff of the game the Pirates forced a UCF fumble that was eventually recovered by the home squad. However, it served as an indication of what was to come.
Three forced fumbles, two of which were recovered by the Pirates, highlighted a dominant performance for the ECU defense. Sprinkle in an early Corey Seargent interception to kill a long UCF drive and you have the makings of a statement game.
The Knights managed just 12 first downs, 232 total yards and an opening-drive touchdown. Johnathan White and Terrell Stanley led a charge up front that penetrated UCF’s young offensive line. ECU held the hosting squad to 3.8 yards per play and 11 completions.
Most importantly, the team didn’t crumble late. In fact, it didn’t even give UCF a glimmer of hope to mount a comeback. The Knights aren’t a good team, that’s for sure. But the Pirate defense looked like its old self — flying around, stopping the run and creating turnovers.
THIRD DOWN: BYE-WEEK PROVES CRUCIAL
The bye-week clearly did a tremendous amount of good for the team. Zeek Bigger and Montese Overton, both of whom were dinged up after 10-straight weeks of games, were back to near-100 percent and it showed, evident by Bigger’s team-high eight tackles.
The team as whole looked refreshed against UCF. The Pirates also had 12 days to prepare for UCF and wasted no time gaining a lead that they wouldn’t surrender.
McNeill said, during the team’s bye-week, that crucial didn’t even come close to describing the importance of the off time. Against UCF, a rejuvenated ECU bunch took care of business on the road, likely energized by the bye.
FOURTH DOWN: BOWL HOPES ALIVE
Pirate fans can rest easy, if only for another week.
ECU took care of business, which didn’t necessarily seem like a certainty entering the game, and did so in convincing fashion. A loss would have handed the Pirates their seventh, ending their bowl hopes and sending the team into a meaningless Senior Night matchup with Cincinnati.
But alas, disaster was avoided, and now ECU returns home to face the Bearcats in a do-or-die game. Momentum is on their side as well. The game against UCF marked perhaps the team’s best win since dismantling Virginia Tech.
The stage is set, the stakes are high and the Pirates have just one more game standing in between them and postseason play.
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