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Ahlers' improvisation already on display

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East Carolina quarterback Holton Ahlers scrambles to his left and looks down field against UCF at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Oct. 20.

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Holton Ahlers did it at D.H. Conley High School, and the on-the-run, right-handed shovel pass has already made its way into Ahlers’ arsenal as East Carolina’s freshman starting quarterback.

Ahlers is a scrambler by nature as a 6-foot-3, 236-pounder with an ideal combination of size and speed.

He also has unique improvisational talent as a QB, like during the Pirates’ preseason when one of the most exciting plays during a scrimmage came when Ahlers was scrambling in the backfield and made a quick flip to streaking running back Anthony Scott near the sideline for a play that easily went for a long touchdown.

Ahlers has made similar flip throws twice now during game action, including last Saturday with his off hand when he was trying to orchestrate a comeback against Memphis during the third quarter.

“I do everything right-handed but throw, so I can do stuff right-handed, too, and it is just instinct,” Ahlers said after Tuesday morning’s practice. “Ever since I remember playing football I’ve always done it. It’s just an instinct thing.”

Offensive coordinator Tony Petersen has one stipulation for Ahlers and the highlight-reel type of play.

“We just have to make sure we honor and stay behind the line of scrimmage, because we got a little close there on Saturday and got away with it,” he said. “It’s one of those things where with a guy like him it is no different than him scrambling and throwing the ball, but he is just able to get it out quick.”

The Pirates (2-6, 0-5 American Athletic Conference) did tie the game, 31-31, during the third quarter before the Tigers eventually pulled away for a 59-41 win. ECU’s scoring output of 41 was more than the 39 it had in the previous three games combined.

Ahlers was making his second start and produced a turnover-free outing of 34-of-62 passing for 449 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran 17 times for 57 yards.

His third start comes Saturday at Tulane, which like Memphis, is favored by about two touchdowns over East Carolina.

Two of the lefty’s touchdown passes last week went to reliable senior receiver Trevon Brown, and the other was to freshman walk-on slot man Tyler Snead during the fourth quarter.

Likely at the top of the list of game highlights for Ahlers, though, was his quick pitch earlier in the second half that caught the Memphis defense off guard and wowed the light Pirate crowd in attendance at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

“Whether it is left-handed or right-handed, I am OK as long as we are taking care of the football,” Petersen said. “He’s done it I think twice this year and both times he has not put the ball in danger. As long as he is not doing that and not pitching the ball back (toward the middle of the field), then I’m good.”

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.

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