Pirates ready for Wolfpack

Published 4:32 pm Friday, September 9, 2016

GREENVILLE — East Carolina senior receiver Zay Jones remembers the last time the Pirates played in-state rival North Carolina State back in 2013.

“It was a great atmosphere,” Jones said of the game played in Raleigh. “They were a tough team and I obviously remember that we won.”

Jones had four catches for 28 yards in the contest and the Pirates cruised past the Wolfpack, 42-28 in Raleigh, en route to a 9-4 season. On Saturday, the two teams will meet again, this time in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

NC State will be out for revenge.

“You just have to come with that same attitude,” Jones said. “Approach it like it’s any other team, you know it’s just the next opponent so we’re not going to do anything special. We’re just going to play our game.”

For the Pirates, coaches and players are emphasizing finding a way to stymie the Wolfpack’s front seven. Junior linebacker Airius Moore is one of eight returning starters on defense for NC State and lead the team with 77 tackles last season. Fellow junior Bradley Chubb was right behind Moore, with 69 stops a year ago. The returning production from the two juniors could pose a threat for the Pirate offense.

“They are as stout as we will see, and we look forward to that challenge,” first-year ECU head coach Scottie Montgomery said. “I can’t say enough about them at the linebacker position. They have some veteran leadership there and a big-time player, but in that defense, you have to start with the defensive line.”

ECU put on an offensive clinic last week against FCS foe Western Carolina. Quarterback Philip Nelson showed off his strong arm and running back Anthony Scott grabbed a strangle hold on the position.

But the real test comes Saturday against the Wolfpack. The Pirates hope for much of the same offensive production, even without deep-threat receiver Trevon Brown. For offensive coordinator Tony Petersen, an up-tempo attack might be the key.

“We’re not trying to get up there and run plays like our hair’s on fire,” Petersen said. “But we’re going to go fast, we’re going to force the defense to be lined up and ready and we’re going to go as fast as we can and still execute at a high level.”

Though its defense is its strength, NC State averaged 33.2 points and 412.8 yards per game last season. But now head coach Dave Doeren is forced to replace last year’s starting quarterback Jacoby Brisset, who scored 26 touchdowns and accounted for 233.1 yards per game.

Brisset’s departure opened the door for Boise State transfer Ryan Finley. In his debut game for NC State last week against William & Mary, Finley completed 17-of-21 passes and threw for two touchdowns in a 48-14 victory. Like Nelson and the rest of the ECU offense, Finley will have a much stiffer test against the Pirates Saturday

A win against NC State Saturday would give the Pirates their third-straight victory over their rival and sixth-straight win against Atlantic Coast Conference opponents.

“We do understand and feel the gravity of the moment,” Montgomery said. “This is a big-time matchup. I’ve been in the Triangle a lot of my life, so I understand the importance of winning in-state games and being around in-state opponents (that are) so close. We’ll be focused and ready to go.”