ECU routs Western Carolina, 52-7, behind Philip Nelson, Zay Jones

New Pirates quarterback throws for five TDs, rushes for another in season opener.

Christine T. Nguyen—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

GREENVILLE, N.C. — The pass-catch combination of Shane Carden and Justin Hardy were so in tune with one another during their three years of rewriting the East Carolina football record book together that they were given the combined nickname of “Cardy.”It’s still early in the game for the Pirates’ current quarterback and top receiver. But if Philip Nelson and Zay Jones continue the way they started in Saturday’s season opener against Western Carolina, they might also find themselves being referred to as a single entity. Nelson, a two-time transfer playing in his first competitive game since 2013, threw for 398 yards and five touchdowns while also running for another. Ten of his 28 completions went to Jones, who accounted for 180 yards and one score while leading ECU to a 52-7 drubbing of Western Carolina.Although there were many stars for the Pirates on a night in which they rolled up 688 yards of total offense while getting the Scottie Montgomery era off to a winning start, none stood out more than a pair of seniors who displayed a remarkable chemistry with one another in their first game together as teammates.”We developed that chemistry over the summer,” said Jones, whose 251 career receptions are the third most in school history. “We expected to come here and air it out. Phil is just an unbelievable athlete. I told y’all before the season how well he’s going to do and he proved it tonight.”Nelson and Jones wasted little time getting their new partnership started.On the Pirates’ first snap of the game at a soggy Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, the two hooked up on a short swing pass that resulted in a one-yard loss. Two plays later, though, Nelson hit Jones in stride down the far sideline for a 33-yard gain that ignited ECU’s first touchdown drive of the new season.The two hooked up for another 33-yard completion on their team’s second possession, one that resulted in a field goal.Then, as time was running out in the first half, Nelson and Jones combined for two more big gainers in the two-minute offense, including a 21-yarder for a touchdown with 51 seconds remaining to increase the Pirates’ already overwhelming lead to 31-7.Of all the positive signs to come out of the opening night victory — including the rushing efforts of running back Anthony Scott (120 yards on 11 carries) and wildcat quarterback James Summers (95 yards on 10 tries), and a surprisingly stout defensive performance — the downfield passing may have been the most encouraging.It was an element of the ECU offense that was all forgotten last season amid the revolving door between Summers and the since-transferred Blake Kemp.”It was definitely not there in the past,” Jones said. “But we’ve opened up our playbook and put people in positions to make plays.”Nelson’s experience and arm strength are a big reason why that’s been possible.”What you saw was a quarterback who understands the offense and lived up to everything we thought he would be,” Montgomery said. “He took care of the ball and I’m very proud of him. … We knew Phil would be special and he was going to be ready.”A two-year starter at Minnesota before transferring to Rutgers, Nelson’s football career got sidetracked in the early morning hours of May 11, 2014 when he was involved in an incident outside a bar in his hometown of Mankato, Minn.Nelson pled guilty to misdemeanor assault and served two days in jail while also receiving 100 hours of community service before being dismissed from school. He landed at ECU as a walk-on before eventually winning the starting job.Saturday, in his first game since the 2013 Texas Bowl against Syracuse, he made the most of his second chance with a career night. “I’m really trying to downplay it,” said Nelson, whose family made the trip to Greenville to watch him play. “It was up in the air, but God blessed me with a second chance. This was great.”Nelson said that the weapons he had at his disposal helped make his job as a quarterback easy on Saturday. One in particular. “Zay is unlike anyone I’ve ever been around,” Nelson said. “Coming out of high school, he wasn’t some five-star receiver or anything. He’s just a hard worker.”Montgomery, a former college and NFL wide receiver himself, was even more glowing in his praise for Jones.”I’m a little bit jealous of our offensive staff because he can do it all,” the coach said. “He makes all the contested catches, he can run by you, he can start and stop, he’s hard to tackle and he’s a good person. When you combine all those things, you’ve got a chance to be something special.”He and Nelson were certainly that on Saturday. If they continue what they started in their first game together, their collaboration is going to need a catchy nickname like Carden and Hardy. The only problem is that neither “Nones” nor “Jelson” have quite the same ring as Cardy.”I don’t know,” Jones laughed when asked what he and Nelson might be called. “I just call (Nelson) the Blond Bomber. That’s all it is.”