Sports

Offense off to a good start under new ECU coach Mike Houston

East Carolina quarterback quarterback Holton Ahlers (12) celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the second quarter against North Carolina on Saturday, September 8, 2018 at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in Greenville, N.C.
East Carolina quarterback quarterback Holton Ahlers (12) celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the second quarter against North Carolina on Saturday, September 8, 2018 at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in Greenville, N.C. rwillett@newsobserver.com

Now that Mike Houston’s first East Carolina spring game is in the books, look for him to fully imprint his stamp following Saturday’s contest at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

“We’ll have some cuts and bring in some other players over the summer,” Houston said. “The roster is not finalized for the 2019 season.”

Up until now, the new coach largely kept in place player routines, such as morning practices. He didn’t run off players during winter conditioning.

Transfer news was limited to quarterback Kingsley Ifedi, who saw the handwriting on the wall. Holton Ahlers is the returning starter and Reid Herring has starting experience. The other notable departure was defensive end Nate Harvey, the American Athletic Conference defensive player of the year, who was denied a waiver by the NCAA.

But Houston’s plans reshaping the roster before the Aug. 31 opener at N.C. State didn’t preclude liking some spring results. In a modified scoring system, the Gold offense defeated the Purple defense, 71-36.

“The way the offense consistently moved the ball was pleasing,” Houston said. “We had minimal errors on that side of the ball. The other side had bright spots, too. The biggest negative was we didn’t have force turnovers, but the ball security was a positive for the offense.”

That accounted for the lopsided score. Defense lacked the big-scoring plays of four points for a takeaway, while the offense had four six-point touchdowns.

Ahlers, a sophomore, was 10 of 19 for 118 yards. He didn’t have a touchdown pass on his two scoring drives, but junior Darius Pinnix’s 7-yard run on a fourth-and-1 said more about what to expect in 2019.

“I told the team the fourth down and inches late in the game when we went for it and got a 7-yard (score) is where this program is going,” Ahlers said. “We’re going to play hard, fast physical football. If you look at that play, that’s where this program is going.”

There certainly was no need to try a chip-shot field with first-team All-AAC kicker Jake Verity returning as a senior. Verity hit a pair of field goals, from 40 and 49 yards.

Reid Herring, a redshirt junior from Millbrook, was 10 of 18 for 100 yards with a 2-yard TD pass to Blake Proehl.

Houston has said the quarterback job is still a competition, but even with Ahlers the returning starter Herring said he has no plans to leave the program.

“The spring has been fun,” Herring said. “We all like the new coaches and we’ve all been working hard together.”

In addition to Pinnix and Proehl scoring, the other TDs were from true freshman quarterback Bryan Gagg on an 18-yard run and senior Hussein Howe also an 18-yard run. Gagg was the third-string quarterback, ahead of Zach Gwyn and Caiden Norman on the depth chart.

Wide receiver Tyler Snead, a former walk-on who was productive in four games before he was held out of the season finale to preserve his redshirt season, handled all the punt return and kick return duties.

“He’s had a solid spring,” Houston said. “We’ve had a lot of success over the years on special teams, but you’ve got to have a guy you can trust with the ball. He’s establishing that trust.”

On defense, the leading tackler was junior linebacker Aaron Ramseur with nine tackles, including two for a loss.

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