Aside from an initial surge by Shane Carden and East Carolinas first-team offense, most of the highlights from Saturdays Purple-Gold football game at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium were made by the new-look ECU defense.
The defense, led by coordinator Rick Smith, who replaced Brian Mitchell shortly after last season, got an interception and finished with five sacks while holding the offense to three touchdowns.
The linebacking core had a particularly strong showing. Senior inside linebacker Kyle Tudor had a scrimmage-high 10 tackles and fellow inside man Jeremy Grove had seven. Maurice Falls had sacks on consecutive plays early in the second half and Montese Overton had some jarring hits and a sack.
ECU coach Ruffin McNeill praised the leadership shown on both sides of the ball during the scrimmage, which signaled the end of the Pirates spring workouts.
(Linebackers) Derrell Johnson, Grove, Tudor, those guys are really doing a great job, McNeill said. They are being the core that we need and I was proud of that today and really throughout the spring.
Senior defensive back Chip Thompson intercepted Carden early in the second half for the games only turnover. Sophomore defensive back Josh Hawkins had a second-half highlight as well, blocking a field goal attempt to preserve a lengthy shutout streak by the defense.
The offense scored on two of its first three possessions, but didnt score again until the final possession of the scrimmage. After that touchdown a pass from Kurt Benkert to Antonio Cannon 8-year-old Noah Roberts entered the game and scored on a running play. Roberts was diagnosed with neurofibromatosis a couple years ago and McNeill said he has been an inspiration for the team for years.
You can see how the kids reacted to Noah and that tells you what Noah means to us, McNeill said. You cant hide how the kids felt about Noah being out there.
Smith said he was pleased with the players on the Nos. 2 and 3 defenses, but he said his top unit got off to a slow start.
They didnt tackle or play the run (well), but then they got going, he said. The twos played really well and had a little zip about them and came ready to play. The threes of course came ready to play, but I told (the starters) that they have to be self-starters and its their responsibility to get themselves ready to play.
Carden was especially accurate during the first drive. He went 4-for-4 for 52 yards, hitting Lance Ray on a post pattern on a second-and-long play for a 21-yard touchdown.
Upperclassmen Justin Jones and Danny Webster were frequent pass targets. Webster made eight catches for 93 yards and Jones had five for 47 yards.
Those first couple drives we were moving the ball fast and then I thought we had a dip in our energy and focus, said Carden, a junior who threw 23 touchdowns and 10 interceptions last season in his initial campaign as the starter. If we dont stop ourselves we can move the ball fine. But if we start getting lazy and start doing that, you see the offense kind of drags a little bit.
NOTES: Former East Carolina standout Dwayne Harris, now with the Dallas Cowboys, was in attendance The announced attendance was 6,294.