The calendar will tell you that this past Saturday wasn’t Memorial Day weekend, but it certainly feels like the start of Summers time in Greenville.
On Saturday, East Carolina quarterback James Summers was a ray of sunshine on a day where an overcast sky hurled pellets of rain on 50,000-plus fans inside Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. The junior transfer warmed up the rain-soaked spectators with electrifying runs and pinpoint passes as he accounted for 279 yards and three touchdowns in three quarters of play to lead East Carolina to a 35-28 victory over Virginia Tech.
It was a much-needed win for ECU (2-2, 0-1 AAC), which entered the game having lost two straight and will play its next two games against SMU and BYU on the road.
“(ECU coach Ruffin McNeill) told me, ‘Be ready tonight. We don’t know when we’re going to put you in, but you just be ready,’” Summers said. “And I was ready.”
He certainly was. The 6-3, 210-pounder played a handful of snaps during the Pirates’ loss to Florida two weeks ago, but he didn’t get his first dose of sustained action until Saturday and he did not disappoint.
The Goldsboro native who originally signed with UNC before embarking on a winding journey that led him to Greenville, checked into the game in the second quarter and led ECU on an eight-play, 77-yard drive that ended with him dashing into the end zone from 5 yards out to give the Pirates their first lead of the day, 21-14.
In the third quarter, Summers upped the advantage to 28-14 when he threw a scoring strike to Isaiah Jones on fourth-and-12 from the Virginia Tech 26-yard line. Jones extended his right hand out to pull in an amazing, one-handed catch at the goal line for the score.
While those watching Summers’ breakout performance may have been surprised, Jones, ECU’s leading receiver, wasn’t.
“I'm not surprised at all," Jones said. “He's a dual-threat quarterback and he's really good.
“We've got two quarterbacks who can move the ball well and score, but tonight obviously James took the lead, took over the team. He didn't hesitate. He wasn't afraid. He got the job done. I'm really proud of him.”
Jones’ signature moment came late in the third when he called his own number and broke off a dazzling 41-yard TD run that featured a spin move and a stiff-arm of a Hokies defender before racing the rest of the way to give the Pirates a 35-21 lead.
“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.
Before Summers started running, he was handed the baton by fellow junior quarterback Blake Kemp, who helped dig the Pirates out of a 14-0 hole that he created.
Kemp started the game by throwing an interception on his first pass attempt, and then fumbled a few plays later. Both turnovers led to Virginia Tech touchdowns and a 14-0 deficit with 7:13 left in the first quarter.
However, Kemp kept his cool and responded with what might be his two best drives of the season. The QB dispelled the myth that he can only connect on short passes by connecting on several intermediate and long plays to lead scoring drives of 61 and 60 yards to tie the game up before the start of the second quarter.
Kemp would finish the game completing nine of his 12 attempts for 118 yards, while throwing for a TD and running for another.
Oddly enough, with Kemp playing his best ball of the young season and the Pirates offense finally getting momentum against Virginia Tech, McNeill chose to bring in Summers.
“Blake Kemp got us going,” Summers said. “We were down 14-0 and he came back and scored two touchdowns back-to-back. Then I came in the next series.
“I mean he didn’t do anything wrong, so I don’t know what that was. That was the coach’s call.”
When asked about the timing of the move all McNeill said was, “I told you on Monday we would play both guys.”
It seems probable that the Pirates will continue to play both passers for now, which is a scenario that would fit Summers just fine.
When asked whether he would be happy with a two-quarterback system Summers, who splits reps in practice with Kemp said, “Yeah, we’ve been living with it this long. Like I said, I love the guy to death. He’s a really good quarterback and I respect him a lot.”