James Summers saves East Carolina Pirates again

For the second consecutive week, East Carolina quarterback James Summers came off the bench to lead the Pirates to a come-from-behind victory. This time, they trailed Southern Methodist by 16 before Summers rallied ECU to a 49-23 win Saturday at Gerald J. Ford Stadium.

With Summers under center, the Pirates scored six unanswered touchdowns. He rushed for 85 yards and two touchdowns on nine carries, while completing 9 of 10 passes for 153 yards and another two scores.

Summers downplayed his impact.

“We know that no one can stop us,” he said. “We have so many weapons on the field, they can’t cover everything.”

Summers had plenty of help from other Pirates as six different players scored. Chris Hairston and Trevon Brown each added touchdowns, with Hairston rushing for 95 yards on 18 carries while Brown caught 4 passes for 85 yards.

The Pirates pounded away at SMU, rushing 54 times for 306 yards. They piled up 555 yards total offense.

ECU’s comeback was a replay of its game last week, when they rallied from a 14-point deficit at home to beat Virginia Tech 35-28. Blake Kemp was the starting quarterback in that game, just like he was at SMU. Summers came off the bench last week, however, and excelled. Summers rushed for two touchdowns and 169 yards (the second most by a quarterback in ECU history), while completing 5 of 8 passes for 110 yards and another score.

The win evened East Carolina’s record in the American Athletic Conference at 1-1, upping its season mark to 3-2. The loss dropped SMU’s record to 0-1 in AAC play, 1-4 overall.

The Mustangs hardly looked like a struggling team for the first 20 minutes of Saturday’s game. SMU used a series of big plays, as well as two interceptions which led to scores, to build a 23-7 lead.

Though Blake had a 10-yard touchdown pass to Davon Grayson to give ECU an early 7-6 lead, he also threw two interceptions that turned into 10 SMU points. The second interception was Blake’s last play of the game.

Summers entered the game, taking over with 10:08 left in the second quarter.

Summers’ impact was immediate. He completed a 12-yarder to Isaiah Jones for a first down, then rushed 14 yards for another. Summers’ threat as a runner opened up the field for the ECU running backs. Summers scored on a 27-yard run around the corner, closing the gap to 23-14.

After a three-and-out for the Mustangs, Summers marched the Pirates 56 yards in five plays. Chris Hairston scored on a 34-yard run, and ECU went to the half trailing just 23-21.

East Carolina head coach Ruffin McNeil said Summers’ dual-threat capability is hard for teams to defend.

“They have to respect him as a runner, but James can throw the ball, too,” McNeil said. “That opened the lanes for the running backs. It helped up front, and with the threat of the pass, it stretches the defense.”

Summers’ spark spread to the Pirate defense, which shut down the Mustangs in the second half. The Pirates lineman dominated on both sides of the ball.

McNeil said the turnaround included both offense and defense.

“They were feeding off us early,” he said, “I told them we needed to stop the feeding frenzy and have one of our own. They knew what that meant and they made it happen.”

Before the substitute quarterback entered the game, the SMU offense averaged more than 9 yards a play, piling up 243 yards in just 26 plays. After the switch to Summers, the Pirate defense surrendered just 60 yards in 25 plays and almost twice as much game time. While the Mustangs built their lead with three passing touchdowns of 19, 40 and 60 yards, they had very little time on passing plays in the second half.

Linebackers Montese Overton and Zeek Bigger led the ECU defensive charge. Overton had four sacks and another tackle for a loss, while Bigger led the Pirates with six tackles. Linebacker Yiannis Bowden was credited with the first two sacks of his career, while defensive end Terrell Stanley added two sacks in the second half.

Summers said he would have no problem continuing coming off the bench, not knowing exactly when he would play.

“It’s definitely hard, but my job is to be ready,” Summers said. “Like coach always says, be ready for my teammates, and that’s what keeps me going.

Mark Zeske: