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WOODWARD: Pirates bond during breakthrough night

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East Carolina receiver Blake Proehl catches a deep pass before running the rest of the way for a 72-yard touchdown Saturday night at S.B. Ballard Stadium in Norfolk Va.


The Daily Reflector

Monday, September 30, 2019


East Carolina sophomore quarterback Holton Ahlers was asked Saturday night about the last time he enjoyed a bus ride after a road football game and he knew immediately that it was when he was a student and star at D.H. Conley High School.

ECU first-year coach Mike Houston was more emphatic with his postgame comments after the Pirates won 24-21 at Old Dominion, passionately relaying to his team celebrating in the visiting locker room at S.B. Ballard Stadium that he didn’t want to be asked again about the Pirates’ 10-game road losing streak that began in 2017. Eight of those 10 losses came before Houston was at ECU, but even he had some personal sting remaining from a 42-10 defeat at Navy on Sept. 14.

Going one step further, ECU hadn’t won a road nonconference game since Sept. 13, 2014.

Ahlers, C.J. Johnson and others at Conley made it a habit to laugh and smile during bus rides after road victories.

Houston and his staff at James Madison from 2016-18 were able to churn out road wins often as easy as home wins in Harrisonburg, Va.

What made this victory special for this East Carolina team was enjoying it together. All wearing Pirate purple and gold.

Still early in the long-term process of rebuilding East Carolina’s football team into a club capable of quality victories no matter the location, this was a breakthrough night for ECU’s players and coaches.

Most impressive is the Monarchs were favored to win.

But the Pirates, who with a 3-2 record already have proven to be better than the 2016, ’17 and ’18 ECU teams that all finished 3-9, won behind timely aggressiveness. Warren Saba blocked a punt and scooped and scored for a touchdown. Ahlers hit Blake Proehl for a 72-yard TD, creating a 17-3 lead early in the second quarter.

An opportunistic Pirate defense was led by Kendall Futrell and was relentless all night in stopping ODU’s running backs.

Minutes after the win, team representatives told media members about what they were about to experience during the two-plus hour drive of mostly country roads from Norfolk to Greenville.

They said the right things, but did they really know how to act on a relaxed and enjoyable trip home?

Undoubtedly they figured it out, even if it meant drawing on experiences at previous schools.

If East Carolina continues its progression and turns into a consistent winning team, more road victories will come. But the drive from Norfolk to Greenville will always remain with Houston and Ahlers and the Pirates as an unforgettable moment.

The looks on their faces as they were preparing to board their bus showed the importance.

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


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