Greenville, N.C. - East Carolina racked up 688-yards of total offense including 413 through the air on a very efficient passing night for starting quarterback Philip Nelson as the Pirates handed NCAA FCS-member Western Carolina a 52-7 set-back Saturday night in the season-opener for both squads at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
Nelson completed 28-of-32 passes for 398 yards and five touchdowns -- two to running back Anthony Scott to lead the Pirates. Top-receiver Zay Jones hauled in a game-high 10 passes for 180 yards and a score in the victory.
ECU's offensive production overshadowed the debut of WCU redshirt freshman quarterback Tyrie Adams. The St. Petersburg, Fla., native opened his collegiate career by completing seven of his first eight passes and orchestrating a pair of impressive first quarter drives before finishing the game 12-of-24 for 167 yards. Adams added a team-high 51 yards rushing in the loss.
"Certainly not the way we wanted to start out the 2016 season," said WCU fifth-year head coach Mark Speir after the game. "We felt good initially about how we came out and moved the ball down the field, and then we have a turnover down on their sideline going into the red zone which can't happen."
WCU's offense had early success against the Pirates as Adams connected on his first six passes as a part of a 67-yard, season-opening drive before it was thwarted with a tough-luck interception. Adams' pass bounced off the hands of receiver Steffon Hill and the ricocheted orb fell into ECU's Travon Simmons for the pick.
Following the turnover, the Pirates scored on the ensuing possession as a part of recording points on three-straight possessions to grab a 17-0 lead in the second quarter. WCU capitalized on a poor punt and strong starting field position to get on the board midway through the frame as Newsome capped a 32-yard drive with a 13-yard scoring romp to close the margin back to within 10, 17-7.
However, the Pirates went on to score back-to-back second quarter TDs as a part of tallying the next 35 unanswered points to seal the victory. ECU led at intermission, 31-7.
Following the game, Speir was high on his redshirt freshman QB in his collegiate debut.
"I thought Tyrie (Adams) came out and threw the ball extremely well and had poise inside the pocket. He got us out of some bad situations sometimes," Speir added.
Newsome finished with 50 yards on the ground including the Catamounts' lone points. Adams and back-up Wes Holcombe spread their 13 completions around to five different receivers with redshirt junior Terryon Robinson hauling in five passes for a team-best 85 receiving yards. Robinson, who led the SoCon in receptions in 2014, returned to the field after missing 2015 due to injury. Hill had four receptions for WCU.
Defensively for the Catamounts, seniors Trey Morgan and Tyson Dickson both had 10 stops apiece with Morgan tallying half a tackle for loss. Classmate Fred Payne and transfer Terrance Wilson finished with seven stops apiece, Payne collected one of WCU's four tackles for loss. Senior DL Avery Worsham made another solid play on special teams, credited with recovering a fumble following a blocked punt that extended a second half drive.
East Carolina first-year head coach Scottie Montgomery stated during his postgame press conference that a solid week of preparation and a total team effort led to his first victory as head coach.
"We did a good job this week in practice and knew we would be crisp. But all-in-all, I thought it was defense, special teams, and offense kind of working together," Montgomery opened. "That is a really good football team we just played against. Offensively and defensively, they were gap sound."
He added, "Offensively, they were hard to deal with in the zone read and that number 12 -- Tyrie Adams -- he is a great player. He was as good with his hands as I've seen in a long time, and we've seen zone read everywhere we have been. Coach (Mark) Speir has done a great job with that team."
Western Carolina (0-1) returns home next weekend to open the home portion of its 2016 schedule by hosting the Gardner-Webb Runnin' Bulldogs (1-0) at E.J. Whitmire Stadium / Bob Waters Field. Fans are encouraged to wear white to the game for the #WhiteOutWhitmire. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:00 pm.