After weeks of practice and workouts, the East Carolina University football team is ready to show what it’s made of when it hosts the annual Purple-and-Gold game on Saturday in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
“It’s going to be a exciting day, first spring game under this coaching staff, a group of young men that have worked so hard and have come so far since day 1,” head coach Mike Houston said. “I will be disappointed if we do not see the same energy on Saturday that we saw at the end of practice today (Wednesday).”
The team has gone through 13 practices in which it’s been aiming to improve on offense, defense and special teams while adapting to one another. A big emphasis that Houston wanted to focus on in improving on all sides of the ball is physicality, technique and tackling.
The relationship between the coaching staff and the players has grown since Dec. 3, the end of last season. Out of all the practices the team has endured, Houston said he was exceptionally pleased with the way Wednesday turned out, describing how it was perhaps the best practice yet this year.
“We had great energy today (Wednesday), really competed at a high level, both sides made significant strides from what we saw on Saturday,” Houston said. “We really, really like the way we competed in the last half of practice when we had our red zone portion of practice and our two-minute drill with both the first and second unit. As we look towards the weekend you could feel a little bit more excitement around here.”
Looking at the current roster that Houston and the coaching staff are working with, Houston has remained optimistic in observing each position from an overall perspective. Houston believes Saturday will determine the amount of depth the football team will have in the fall.
Fans will be able to see how this football team has adjusted to Houston’s coaching style on both sides of the ball. Students, families and alumni will be able to see how freshman starting quarterback Holton Ahlers has adjusted to Houston and the new offensive system. They will also be able to see how the defense has adapted in spring training knowing that senior defensive end Nate Harvey will not return for the 2019 season.
“It’s going to be a competitive matchup,” Houston said. “This is not a for-show kind of deal with the spring game, this is a evaluation and our final scrimmage, and the performances in Saturday’s scrimmage will go a long way towards determining our depth chart for this fall.”
Athletic Director Jon Gilbert said that he’s pleased with how Houston has led the Pirates up to this point and the way the team has performed every morning. Gilbert added he is excited to see where the team goes following spring training.
“We’ve got great energy and I think coach is setting a culture and foundation for future success,” Gilbert said. “That doesn’t happen overnight. We’re probably not going to win 12 games next year but I do think we are setting the tone for a bright future for East Carolina football.”
The scrimmage on Saturday will be offense versus defense. Offense will be in all white, the defense will be in all purple. Four 15 minute quarters with a running clock in each quarter will be played until the final two minutes of each half where it will be played in game regulation.
“At the end of the scrimmage there will be a winner, and there will be a loser just like everything in life,” Houston said. “There will be a winner’s dinner next Tuesday. Steak and Shrimp, it will be a feast. The losing team will serve the winning team dinner next Tuesday night. That’ll be our end to spring ball, and a way to kind of celebrate together as a team and have a little bit of fun.”
The annual Purple and Gold game will kick off at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday during PirateFest on top of the 36th annual Pigskin Pigout that is set to kick off on Saturday at 8 a.m. in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.