Heading into last Thursday’s American Athletic Conference showdown with Cincinnati, East Carolina defensive coordinator Rick Smith demanded his unit produce more turnovers.
Senior strong safety Lamar Ivey responded, picking off two passes and recovering a fumble. However, it wasn’t enough, and the Pirates’ defense allowed the Bearcats to drive downfield and kick a 47-yard field goal to reclaim the lead with less than a minute left and eventually take a 54-46 victory.
The turn of events made for a bittersweet evening for Ivey, whose career night was lost in the shuffle of a devastating defeat that in all likelihood put an end to East Carolina’s AAC title hopes.
“I told everybody that I would give them back, all those turnovers, just to get a win,” Ivey said.
The loss bumped East Carolina (6-3, 3-2) to third place in the AAC, and despite the outcome, Ivey’s performance was not lost on Smith.
“He did a great job. He got two picks and a fumble recovery,” Smith said. “He missed a couple of tackles, but other than that he was 100 percent. He was the only member of the secondary that graded out a winner. … He played 80 plays and only had only three minuses.”
The 6-foot-1, 196-pound Mebane native also racked up eight tackles, one shy of his career high, and now ranks fourth on the team with 50 stops.
Throughout his career, Ivey has played all secondary positions, but never settled into one until this season.
“He was a free safety, then he was a corner. I moved him once, but the other coach (former defensive coordinator Brian Mitchell) moved him around a little bit and he never found a home,” Smith said. “Now he’s found a home and he’s really grabbed it. He’s doing great. I don’t take him off the field.”
Fellow safety Domonique Lennon said Ivey has all the makings of a quality safety.
“He’s a playmaker,” Lennon said. “He’ll hit you. He has some of the best feet on the team, period. He’s really quick coming out of his break to the ball and he just makes plays. He’s a guy you can count on.”
Aside from finding a home at strong safety, Ivey has also found a new personality. It’s one that has endeared himself to Smith and the rest of his teammates.
“He’s personality has changed,” Smith said. “He’s talking and smiling. Last year, he didn’t play much so he was quiet and didn’t say much, but he’s taken a leadership role now as a senior because he can. It’s great to see him kidding around and smiling.”
The Pirates are hoping that positive attitude helps East Carolina snap its first two-game losing skid since 2011 when it hosts Tulane at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday.
“After a loss like (the one against Cincinnati) we just try to encourage each other,” Ivey said. “We tell each other it’s still a long season, let’s get back to work and build on what we did wrong.”