Sometimes you have to get punched in the face before you fight back. Twice if you’re East Carolina.
The Pirates withstood two early haymakers from Virginia Tech, falling behind by two touchdowns after their first two possessions of the game, but somehow managing to stay on their feet and punch back with 28 unanswered points to beat the Hokies, 35-28, on Saturday.
The win snapped a two-game losing skid for ECU (2-2, 0-1 AAC) and extended its winning streak versus the ACC to five games, as the Pirates topped the Hokies (2-2, 0-0 ACC) in back-to-back contests for the first time since the 1991-92 seasons.
“We never quit, we never surrender,” ECU head coach Ruffin McNeil said. “We’ll never give up as long as I’m here.”
It was a great day for the 50,000-plus ECU fans that sold out a soggy Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium and began the evening wondering if anybody could play quarterback this season, only to find out that there might be two pretty good ones on the roster right now.
Junior passer Blake Kemp overcame a nightmare beginning in which he committed two turnovers on the Pirates first seven plays of the game to complete nine of his 12 attempts for 118 yards, one passing TD and one rushing TD.
“We were just like, ‘Hey man, it’s time to bounce back,’” Kemp said.
Kemp’s resurrection was overshadowed by the play of backup James Summers, who entered the game in the second quarter and played just about every snap after.
The junior dual-threat QB connected on five of his eight attempts for 110 yards and a TD, while rushing for a game-high 169 yards and two touchdowns.
“(McNeill) told me just be ready tonight, we don’t know when we’re going to put you in but you just be ready,” Summers said.
Summers, a Goldsboro native who signed out of Hinds CC as a wide receiver this summer but was asked to play quarterback when Kurt Benkert sustained a season-ending knee injury, was more than ready.
The 6-3, 210-pounder scored on runs of 5 and 41 yards, while hitting Isaiah Jones for a one-handed 26-yard scoring pass in the third quarter.
“When they brought in the great runner (Summers) they got their number and they finally had the advantage on us,” Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. “He ran better than we could tackle … He’s got ability. When you put him with the throwing guy it’s a tough thing to prepare for. We had him several times and just missed the tackle.”
James’ talents were on display during his 41-yard TD run as he shrugged off a defender 10 yards past the line of scrimmage then sprinted to the end zone for the score. The run might have been the most critical play of the game as it came on the heels of the Hokies first TD in nearly two quarters of action and restored the Pirates two-touchdown lead late in the third.
“I just ran through the hole and the (defender) came over and he wrapped is arm around me and I just kind of pushed him off and kept running,” Summers said.
McNeill said he liked what he saw from both QBs, and it’s a safe bet they will both play next week versus SMU.
“James and Blake both share time in practice. I was proud of the way Blake came back from two tough series and led us to two scores,” McNeill said. “Then James came in and did his deal and did a great job leading us.”
James’ 169 rushing yards led all players, while Kemp was second on the Pirates with 15 rushing yards. Running back Chris Hairston ran for three yards on 15 attempts.
Wide receiver Trevon Brown came off of a three-game suspension to lead ECU with 44 receiving yards, which including a 19-yard TD grab.
Isaiah Ford paced the Hokies with eight receptions for a game-high 95 yards.
The ECU defense also came ready to play on Saturday. After getting overrun by Navy last week, the unit responded with a strong performance against dual-threat QB Brenden Motley (19-34-1, 281, 1) and stopped two Hokies drives in the final two minutes of the game to preserve the win.
The defense was led by inside linebacker Jordan Williams who booked a game-high 13 tackles and had an interception.