ECUs Jones phenomenal in record-setting receiving effort

Zay Jones 22 catches easily surpassed the ECU record of 17 set by Justin Hardy against Tulane on Oct. 12, 2013.

The North State Journal—The North State Journal
East Carolina wide receiver Zay Jones (7) scores a touchdown in front of Western Carolina defensive back Tra Hardy (17) on Saturday

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Zay Jones was all over the field for the East Carolina football team on Saturday. And not in the cliched sense. Shifting frequently from outside receiver to the slot while taking snaps on both sides of the field, the Pirates star never gave South Carolina’s defense an idea of where he might be from one play to the next. It’s a strategy that helped him get open all day on his way to a school and American Athletic Conference record 22 receptions in ECU’s 20-15 loss at Williams-Brice Stadium. “Our game plan this week involved a lot of getting Zay the ball and putting him in positions to make plays,” quarterback Philip Nelson said. “The coaches called the plays. Trust me, I go through my reads and he finds the ball. That’s just our offense.” Jones was already the centerpiece of the Pirates’ passing attack with 17 catches for 253 yards coming into Saturday’s game. But he was even more productive came into Saturday’s game having already caught 17 passes for 253 yards on the young season. It’s a total he surpassed that in one afternoon on a big stage against a high-profile SEC opponent. His 22 catches easily surpassed the ECU record of 17 set by Justin Hardy against Tulane on Oct. 12, 2013. He came up just one catch shy of tying the single-game NCAA mark of 23 set by UNLV’s Randy Gatewood in 1994 and Eastern Michigan’s Tyler Jones in 2008. “He’s phenomenal,” center J.T. Boyd said of his roommate Zay Jones, who finished with 190 receiving yards.. “He puts in the work. He deserves to play like that. He’s watching film all the time at the house, running extra routes with Phil after practice. Those two deserve to have good games and they put on for the team like they should.” Nelson went 44 of 58 for 400 yards with half of his completions and 190 of the yards going to Jones. As productive a game as Jones had catching the ball on a day in which he moved past Dwayne Harris into second place behind Hardy on the Pirates’ all-time receptions list, the biggest hole in the 6-foot-1, 195-pound senior’s stat line was his inability to get into the end zone. But he was hardly alone. On four separate occasions during the frustrating loss, ECU drove inside the USC only to come come away without scoring a single point. It wasn’t until the final 2½ minutes that Nelson finally hit Devin Anderson with their team’s only touchdown of the day. On the ensuing 2-point conversion try, Jones was on the throwing end of a pass that fell short of Nelson in the end zone. It proved to be a frustrating ending to what could have been an unforgettable day. “I always expect to do well and I expect my teammates to do well,” Jones said. “… Our offense shot ourselves in the foot and it showed. We put some great drives together, it just sucks that we couldn’t finish and we came up short. It hurts. It hurts really bad.” The disappointing outcome took helped offset any sense of accomplishment Jones may have felt after a career performance in which he wrote his name into two record books. “With all due respect, I’m not worried about that right now,” Jones said. “I’ve got guys in the locker room that are hurt and disappointed. Right now my focus is on the team, not me.”