Targeting call inspired ECU’s dominant second half against UNC

Pirates cornerback Colby Gore was released from the hospital Saturday night after suffering a scary helmet-to-helmet hit

UNC's Antonio Williams is tackled by ECU's Colby Gore on Saturday. The two were later involved in a pivotal play that sent Gore to the hospital and Williams to the locker room (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

GREENVILLE — Colby Gore watched the second half of Saturday’s East Carolina-North Carolina football game from a hospital bed at Vidant Medical Center. But his contribution to holding the Tar Heels scoreless over those final 30 minutes was just as significant as those of his Pirate teammates still on the field at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

Gore’s injury from a helmet-to-helmet hit and the reaction to it by UNC’s Antonio Williams inspired ECU’s often-maligned defense to a dominant performance that paved the way to an emotional 41-19 beatdown of the rival Tar Heels.

“One of the things we always preach is that when somebody goes down, we all just have to go step up that much harder,” said offensive lineman Garrett McGhin said afterward. “Colby is a great guy, a great teammate. I’ll give everything I’ve got for that kid. You saw that today from this whole team.”

Gore, one of ECU’s best and most experienced defensive players, had three tackles, two pass breakups and a forced fumble before leaving the game. He was attempting to chase down UNC receiver Anthony Ratliff-Williams after a catch with 5:02 remaining in the first half when he was flattened by a hard block.

No penalty was called on the play, but upon review, replays showed that Williams initiated the contact with the crown of his helmet.

The Tar Heels’ leading rusher in the game to that point with 96 yards on six carries was subsequently ejected for targeting.

Gore, meanwhile, laid motionless on the field for several minutes while medical personnel attended to him, removed his facemask, strapped him to a backboard and eventually carted to the locker room as his coaches and teammates knelt silently nearby.

“We prayed over Colby,” Pirates coach Scottie Montgomery said afterward. “I led the team in prayer right there.”

The senior cornerback was taken to nearby Vidant Medical Center where, according to an ECU spokesman, “additional evaluations were conducted.” Though the nature of his injury was not announced, treatment on the field suggested that it was either a head or back issue.

Gore was discharged from the hospital late Saturday night and his status for next week’s game at Virginia Tech has yet to be determined.

“Hopefully he’ll be fine,” Montgomery said. “But our team definitely rallied off the field and then back out after halftime. The halftime in that locker room was incredible. I knew we would play well in the third and fourth quarters because of the locker room.”

One of the reasons ECU’s players were so fired up about the hit on Gore was Williams’ reaction afterward. As Gore laid on the field injured, Williams celebrated and gestured wildly toward the fans in the stands.

The Pirates defense, which ranked dead last nationally among FBS programs in points and yards allowed last season, yielded only 78 total yards to UNC in the second half. It also denied the Tar Heels on all seven of their third-down attempts and twice forced turnovers with stops on fourth-and-1 plays.

In the process, they shut out an opponent for an entire half for the first time since holding Western Carolina scoreless on Sept 3, 2016, in Montgomery’s first game.

“I know things happen, but it really ticked me off when the player came off the field and was taunting to the fans as if he had no sympathy,” linebacker Aaron Ramseur said of UNC’s Williams. “This is a game, but he was in the wrong the way he hit him. He could have prevented it. When you do something like that, his reaction was terrible.

“That’s probably what sparked it for us. We’ve got to be our brother’s keeper and that’s what we had to do.”