GREENVILLE — Scottie Montgomery and the Pirates showed ’em Saturday.
Buried badly in public opinion, given little chance after opening the season with a shocking loss to North Carolina A&T, East Carolina whipped North Carolina 41-19 in what was not even close to a full house at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
Imagine that? The Tar Heels, a team that once would never even come to Greenville, in town with good seats available and getting hammered by of all things a Pirates defense that in the last two years did well just to prevent other teams from hanging half a hundred.
Carolina rolled in a 14- to 16-point favorite despite a loss at Cal a week earlier and crawled out looking like it would be lucky to see such a betting line later in the season when it hosts Western Carolina. The Tar Heels left no reason to believe they might win a game before going to Syracuse on Oct. 20, though they certainly should win before then.
Saturday was one such opportunity.
But Montgomery and the Pirates showed ’em. Embattled and bruised, challenged and resolute, the third-year head coach who played and coached at Duke prepared his team as best he could and then savored the thrill of beating Carolina blue.
If there’s anything that binds Duke and ECU, it’s “beat Carolina.” Heck, that’ll bind any two schools.
“I love beating the Tar Heels,” Montgomery said. “It’s the best win because it’s the last win, but I love beating the Tar Heels.”
There’s no relief. He said as much and knows his job is still in jeopardy. So do his players.
“The players did a good job not letting it get to our heads,” said sophomore linebacker Aaron Ramseur. “At practice, we did all we could to focus. It wasn’t easy to tune it out.
“The players are behind him 100 percent.”
True enough, but the purple and gold fan base is another matter. This is a group that doesn’t mind throwing money at flying planes tail-dragging banners above the stadium on game days. The last athletics director who hired Montgomery saw it, and the door out.
With just six wins in his first 24 games, Montomery’s seat was hot before A&T came calling Labor Day weekend. It only escalated after the Aggies’ landmark decision.
But Saturday there was no plane. There was no porous defense. Oh, they still didn’t tackle well in the first half, but Carolina had such limited weaponry that it hardly mattered.
East Carolina led 21-19 and then did the unthinkable, pitching a second-half shutout and strolling to a 22-point win. Old times, if you will, given the Pirates have beaten Carolina and head coach Larry Fedora three in a row.
Talk about a guy on the hot seat. Fedora, not just Montgomery.
Saturday didn’t solve all of East Carolina’s problems. Montgomery and his players will be the first to say as much. In fact, they did.
ECU has still lost 23 of its last 31 dating back to Montgomery’s predecessor, Ruffin McNeill. Turning such an overwhelming tide doesn’t happen in singular moments. First step is have them, then to put a string together.
East Carolina linked enough on this afternoon. Forging a 38-19 lead, the final 11:28 wasn’t Scottie Mo on the clock — only the wait for jubilant celebration that goes with any school’s “beat Carolina” afternoon.
The clock is still ticking. More wins will be the only way to silence it.
For a day, Scottie Mo and the Pirates showed ’em.
Scottie Montgomery, in his postgame press conference, said he enjoys beating the Tar Heels but the win provides no relief in the fight to keep his job.
Alan Wooten can be reached at 910-247-9132 or email@example.com. Twitter: @alanwooten19.