NCAAF: No. 13 NC State renews rivalry with East Carolina

No. 13 NC State and East Carolina will renew an in-state rivalry when the two sides kick off their season Saturday afternoon in Greenville, N.C.

Host ECU is coming off its best season in several years. The Pirates won seven games under Mike Houston last season and were poised to go bowling for the first time since 2014 until the Military Bowl was canceled due to a COVID-19 outbreak among Boston College players.

Among the key returners for ECU is quarterback Holton Ahlers. Now a fifth-year senior, Ahlers threw for 3,126 yards and 18 touchdowns last season. He also rushed for six touchdowns and caught one, too.

NC State coach Dave Doeren tried to recruit Ahlers to the Wolfpack several years ago. This will be the second time Doeren has tried to gameplan against him.

“He was mobile. Still is. Has a good arm. Sees the field. He is good on his feet. The same reasons I recruited him then are the same reasons he’s a four-year starter for them,” Doeren said Monday. “He’s a big, strong kid who can move around. He’s super smart, and he has a lot of game experience.”

This is Doeren’s 10th season at NC State and many expect this Wolfpack team to be his best yet. NC State’s No. 13 preseason AP ranking is its highest since 1975.

Leading the Pack is their own talented quarterback, junior Devin Leary. He threw for 35 touchdowns last season and led NC State to a 9-3 finish.

Leary was voted as the ACC Preseason Player of the Year and has been named to watchlists for the Manning, Maxwell, O’Brien and Camp awards.

NC State also has four returning starters on the offensive line and 10 returning starters on a defense that was second best in the nation against the pass, holding opponents to a 52.7 percent completion rate.

“The good news about playing an interstate rival like this where there’s a lot of history, is the summer is not nearly as hard on the coaches to motivate the players,” ECU offensive coordinator Donnie Kirkpatrick told 247sports. “That first game, they know they’re playing a really good team and they know that game is a really important game. So, their focus is there.

“The negative is this team is really freaking good.”

This will be the 32nd meeting between the Wolfpack and the Pirates. NC State has won the last two games — in 2019 and 2018 — but lost the last two meetings that were played in Greenville, in 2016 and 2010. The Wolfpack hold the all-time advantage in the series with an 18-13 record.

Former ECU head coach Ruffin McNeill — who took the Pirates bowling four times between 2010 and 2015, and went 2-0 against the Pack — is now on NC State’s staff as a special assistant to Doeren. For McNeil, an ECU graduate who was inducted into the East Carolina Athletics Hall of Fame last year, this will be his first trip to Greenville as an opponent.

“I’m sure it’ll be emotional,” McNeill told 247Sports. “But then it will get straight to the competition part.”

–Field Level Media

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