Jones stands alone in history

Published 2:05 pm Sunday, November 20, 2016

GREENVILLE — It took under 20 minutes for Zay Jones’ banner to come down over the Murphy Center Saturday, commemorating a historic accomplishment and providing a glimpse of light in an otherwise dark season.

A 19-yard catch on the sideline shattered the record set by former Pirate Justin Hardy, marking a record-breaking 388th career reception.

“It was very special,” said quarterback Gardner Minshew, who started in place of an injured Philip Nelson. “I’m so honored to be just a small part of what’s been an amazing career, season and a record-breaking night for Zay.”

After the Pirates capped off the drive with a field goal to take a 17-7 lead, and the white banner came down over Murphy Center windows. Jones took to midfield for a brief ovation, joined by friends, family and even now-second-place Hardy.

“It meant a lot. I almost teared up,” Jones said. “It was really emotional just having them there. (Hardy) told me some words of encouragement and that really meant a lot to me. He told me he’s proud of me. It was touching because I see Justin as a brother.”

Head coach Scottie Montgomery, Zay Jones and former record holder Justin Hardy take the field as Jones’ banner is dropped.

Head coach Scottie Montgomery, Zay Jones and former record holder Justin Hardy take the field as Jones’ banner is dropped.

Head coach Scottie Montgomery took the field with Hardy and the Jones family for the banner ceremony. He had a unique perspective as a former standout receiver at Duke, before joining the NFL.

“(Hardy and I) joked about the situation before the season,” Montgomery said. “We were joking because there was no way he’d get that many catches. Justin thought he could and I maybe thought he could, but Zay didn’t talk about it all that much. I also told both of them it’s probably the only time I’ve been on a college field and was the worst of the three receivers.”

Jones came into the Senior Night game needing just eight catches to break the record. He was the show’s main attraction from the get-go. He finished with 12. On the first play of the game, he took a 7-yard pass from Gardner Minshew to get the ball rolling.

From there, he grabbed two touchdown passes, including a 40-yard grab that gave him the East Carolina single-season receiving yards record, and racked up a personal-best 212 yards.

James Summers had impressive game with 137 rushing yards and an 81-yard touchdown run in his final game at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. But the Jones’ record meant more to him than any other running back on the roster thanks to his time spent behind center last season.

“I still get chills in my body,” Summers said. “That kid works so hard and nobody knows. I felt like I won an award out there so that was great.”

While the Midshipmen throttled the Pirates on the ground en route to a 66-31 victory, Jones and company took to the air in hopes of turning the tables. Unfortunately for the Pirates, the methodical Midshipmen triple-option attack was too much to overcome.

Still, the loss wasn’t enough to sour Jones’ record.

“It’s bitter sweet. You always want to get the win,” said fellow receiver Jimmy Williams. “But (Jones is) someone that comes in, came from a great home so he really didn’t have to lay it all out for football, but every single day he comes out here and does every single thing to the fullest.”