In his first collegiate start, junior quarterback Rio Johnson finished 28-43 for 242 yards with two touchdowns passing along with another score rushing. When asked to rank Rio’s performance on a scale of 1-10, ECU head coach Ruffin McNeil responded “Win, W-I-N, explanation, explanation, explanation.”
Despite an impressive showing by the offense in the second half, the play of the ECU special teams and defensive units really stole the show on Saturday. In the second quarter and the Pirates trailing 7-0, junior-transfer safety Chip Thompson returned a fumble, which was forced by linebacker Jeremy Grove, 45 yards to put ECU on the board and really change momentum. Grove, C-USA’s defensive player of the week, had 9 tackles to go along with the forced fumble.
ECU’s special teams unit made its presence known in the second quarter when sophomore wideout Justin Hardy returned an ASU punt 43 yards into the red zone to set up a Pirate touchdown. Undoubtedly, the biggest play from the special teams came when Appalachian State cut the ECU lead to 14-13 in the third quarter and junior transfer wide receiver Lance Ray showcased his speed and elusiveness with a 90 yard kickoff return for a touchdown. The Pirates never really looked back at that point as Ray’s big play seemed to have broken the Mountaineers back.
Things didn’t start out well for the Pirates in this one though. On his first drive of his collegiate career, Rio Johnson threw a pass across the middle that was deflected and intercepted by Appalachian State’s Troy Sanders. Following the pick, ASU quarterback Jamal Jackson drove his team down the field, converted on three key third downs, including a four yard quarterback keeper to put the Mountaineers up 7-0. After the first half, the Pirates grabbed a hold of the game that featured heat indexes that were sniffing 100 degrees.
ECU (1-0) will travel to Columbia this Saturday to face No. 9 ranked South Carolina (1-0), who they fell to in last year’s season opener in Charlotte 56-37. Appalachian State (0-1) will host Montana in their home opener on Saturday.
-Sophomore safety Lamar Ivey recorded his first interception as a Pirate in the fourth quarter.
-Senior nose-tackle Michael Brooks left game with a knee injury.
-Junior running back Michael Dobson rushed for 78 yards on 19 carries.