ECU suffers crushing opening night loss to James Madison

The Pirates surrendered 614 total yards to the defending FCS national champions in losing for the 10th time in its last 11 games dating back to last year

James Madison upset East Carolina in last year's opening game (ECU photo/Rob Goldberg)

GREENVILLE — The fresh start Scottie Montgomery promised in his second season as East Carolina’s football coach looked a lot like an extension of his first as the Pirates suffered a crushing 34-14 setback to James Madison on opening night at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

 ECU surrendered 614 total yards to the defending FCS national champions, including 422 on the ground, while having trouble moving the ball on its own in losing for the 10th time in its last 11 games dating back to last year.

“I’m very, very disappointed, as disappointed as I’ve been since I’ve been here,” Montgomery said afterward. “I’m clearly disappointed in the way we performed today, especially with the kind of camp we’ve had, the kind of spring we’ve had.”

Despite being outplayed by a wide margin, ECU still only trailed 7-0 at halftime on a touchdown run by JMU quarterback Bryan Schor late in the first quarter. The Dukes added another score on the opening possession of the second half before the Pirates finally showed some signs of life following an interception by Bobby Fulp.

It took ECU just three plays to score, with the help of a pass interference call in the end zone, with freshman running back Darius Pinnix covering the last six yards on the ground.

But that’s when everything began to unravel for the Pirates.

JMU broke the game open by scoring three unanswered touchdowns, including an 80-yard run by Cardon Johnson and a 70-yard burst by Marcus Marshall. Johnson also had an 85-yard scoring run on his way to a career-high 265 yards on 17 carries.

ECU, which bolstered its roster with five graduate transfers in the offseason, managed only 70 yards on the ground with Derrell Scott leading the way with 47 yards on 12 carries. He scored his team’s final touchdown on a 1-yard run with 23 seconds remaining.

Starting quarterback Gardner Minshew completed seven of 18 passes for 82 yards and an interception for the Pirates before being lifted in the second half for Duke transfer Thomas Sirk, who was 21 of 35 for 210 yards and two picks.

“For some of our first time starters, their nerves were much bigger than we thought,” said Montgomery, whose team will now have to travel to West Virginia for an even tougher test next week. “We put them in scrimmage situations to get to this point and we just didn’t respond.”