The East Carolina football team closed its spring season at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium for the annual Purple-Gold game Saturday. Though called a game, it is merely another scrimmage with the defense being dressed in white uniforms, while the offense and special teams wore purple.
ECU’s defense stymied the offense after two early-touchdowns and has continued to progress as the spring's gone on. Junior linebacker Kyle Tudor was all over the field and collected a team-best 10 tackles and senior safety Chip Thompson grabbed an interception on an overthrown attempt by quarterback Shane Carden.
The unit only surrendered 375 yards—4.1 yards per play—on 91 plays, which has head coach Ruffin McNeill encouraged about the its development under defensive-coordinator Rick Smith.
“I think (the defense has) come along fine. Rick is steady in installing his package and belief and I think the young men have adapted to Rick,” said McNeill. “I was pleased with Rick and what’s he brought to our staff, team, and to the defense.
Carden opened the scrimmage by leading a 70-yard scoring-drive—4-for-4 passing—that was capped on a beautifully-executed post-pattern to Lance Ray for a 21-yard touchdown.
Back-up quarterback Cody Keith followed suit on the offense’s third series of the game with an 80-yard march that required the Pirates to convert on a fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line. Keith handed the ball to sophomore running back Cory Hunter, who barely crossed the goal line on a second-effort plunge.
Following the hot-start, both quarterbacks struggled to find a rhythm and would not lead another scoring drive for the rest of the day. Carden was 14-for-22 passing for 137 yards with an interception, while Keith finished 12-for-20 through the air for 104 yards. Early-enrollee Kurt Benkert went the rest of the way behind-center and found sophomore wide receiver Antonio Cannon for a 32-yard touchdown connection in the scrimmage’s final moments.
On the final play of the day, eight-year old Noah Roberts stole the show.
Noah is a third-grader fighting cancer, who has been embraced by the team for the past two years. To close the afternoon, he was given the ball in front of 6,294 cheering fans and scampered into the endzone, before being lifted above the shoulders of the entire team.
“Noah is special to us,” said McNeill, who came up with the idea of having him score on the last play, “When (strength and conditioning coach) Jeff (Connors) brought him by, it was an instant connection.”
Offensive-Coordinator Lincoln Riley added, “If you didn’t have goose bumps with a tear in your eye, you may want to check your pulse after that one.”
On special teams, kicker Warren Harvey was a perfect 2-for-2 on extra points, while freshman walk-on Connor Torruella missed a PAT and had a long field-goal try blocked. Senior punter Trent Tignor averaged 48.3 yards on his three attempts Saturday. Special teams coach Kirk Doll caught the return-team off-guard on a fake punt and run with defensive-end Lee Pegues for a first down.
Junior wide-out Danny Webster solidified himself as a reliable No. 2 option for Carden—behind Justin Hardy—recording a team-high eight passes for 93 yards. In an injury-riddled backfield, Hunter emerged for 61 yards on 15 carries and a touchdown.