For the second straight week, the NC State football team is about to face an opponent whose coach figures to be fired once the game is over regardless of the outcome.
Just as it did last Saturday with North Carolina’s Larry Fedora, the Wolfpack is hoping to send East Carolina’s Scottie Montgomery out with a loss.
Bringing about Montgomery’s imminent demise, however, is only a small part of State’s motivation in a game scheduled as a makeup for dates lost to Hurricane Florence back in September.
Not only would a win in the regular season finale keep the Wolfpack’s hopes for a 10-win season alive, but it would also help coach Dave Doeren erase some of the bad memories from his own personal low point — a 33-30 loss to the Pirates in 2016 that turned out to be the high-water mark of Montgomery’s three-year tenure in Greenville.
“Our guys, a lot of them were in that game, so that’s already been brought up not just by me but by them,” Doeren said Monday at his regular weekly press conference. “We’ll see where it goes after that, but all our focus is on beating ECU and playing as good as we can play.
“The fact that we didn’t play well there last time I think resonates with our guys. But that’s not how we’ll win the game. It’s just a conversation. We need to not beat ourselves, and that’s really what we did down there last time with 13 penalties and a bunch of turnovers.”
The Wolfpack (8-3) didn’t exactly bring its “A” game with it to Chapel Hill last week for its annual rivalry matchup with UNC.
It trailed the two-win Tar Heels deep into the fourth quarter before rallying to win in overtime on running back Reggie Gallaspy’s school-record fifth touchdown of the day.
The hard-fought victory was a reminder that regardless of records, rivalry games often bring out the best in the underdog. It’s a realization Doeren said will help bring out the best in his team as it faces another in-state foe looking to put a happy ending on an otherwise disappointing season.
“We are beat up. but we were beat up the last four games,” Doeren said. “So our guys will find a way, and I don’t see let down in our program. I don’t see that. We’re going to rally; we’re going to fight. We’re going to scrap, we’re going to motivate, and our guys will be ready Saturday.”
How ready ECU will be is anybody’s guess.
Not only are the Pirates (3-8) coming off a 56-6 drubbing at the hands of Cincinnati last Friday, a game that was essentially decided by the end of the first quarter, but they have little left for which to play.
Any chance of fulfilling Montgomery’s “guarantee” of at least six wins and a bowl bid, the standard that was likely the bar for him keeping his job, went out the window several weeks ago.
“That’s the truth,” the former Duke wide receiver and offensive coordinator said. “It’s frustrating for a lot of reasons. We’re frustrated because we feel like we have some players that can play at a high level. Unfortunately, they’ve been injured. We feel that we have some young guys coming on and playing well. They haven’t been able to do it at the same time. At the end of the day, that’s what our job is to do, to make all of that happen.”
It’s almost certain that Montgomery won’t be around long enough to accomplish that goal, based on his record of 9-26 (4-20 in the American Athletic Conference) and the fact that a new athletic director is about to be hired later this week.
When asked about his future by the media at his weekly press conference on Monday, the embattled coach seemed resigned to the reality that his time in Greenville is about to be up.
“It’s not a point where I say we’ve done enough, because if we had won nine games that still would not have been enough for me,” he said. “Like I said when I first came here, we came here to win championships. We haven’t been able to do that for a lot of reasons, and I’m one of the reasons.”
If Saturday’s game is Montgomery’s last with the Pirates, he’s determined to go out the way he came in — with an emotional win against the Wolfpack.
“The biggest deal is the way that we come out and prepare this week,” he said. “We’re going to work our butts off.”