GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) — James Summers spun off one tackler, shoved another one — a defensive lineman, no less — straight into the grass and raced to the end zone for a long touchdown that had East Carolina’s rain-soaked fans roaring in delight.
The backup quarterback had the highlight-reel play that perfectly captured his dominance over Virginia Tech’s befuddled defense.
Summers accounted for three touchdowns, two coming on the ground in a huge rushing performance, to help the Pirates beat the Hokies 35-28 on Saturday for a fifth straight win against Atlantic Coast Conference opponents under Ruffin McNeill.
Summers ran for 169 yards in a bigger-than-expected role amid rainy conditions, going from the change-of-pace option behind Blake Kemp to the guy powering the Pirates (2-2) to their first home win against the Hokies (2-2) in 23 years.
“(McNeill) told me, ‘Just be ready tonight — we don’t know when we’re going to put you in, but you just be ready,'” Summers said. “And I was ready.”
Trevon Brown and Isaiah Jones each had touchdown catches for East Carolina, which ditched its pass-heavy ways and kept the ball on the ground. Summers carried the ball on 21 of ECU’s 43 run plays, more than double their pass attempts in an unusual look under McNeill.
The 41-yard TD run stood out, especially when the 6-foot-3, 210-pound quarterback jammed defensive end Ken Ekanem (6-3, 248) into the turf after Ekanem had wrapped his arms around him but failed to bring him down.
“Quarterback s aren’t not allowed to get hit in practice, so that was actually the first time I saw him take a guy and throw a guy,” Jones said, “which was pretty crazy.”
McNeill had said this week he planned to get some work for Summers, a one-time major instate recruit who committed to North Carolina State, signed with North Carolina but didn’t qualify academically and ended up in junior college. He arrived at ECU late in training camp to play receiver, then moved over after injuries and defections left the Pirates thin at quarterback.
That’s why no one could have predicted he’d put on this kind of show, even completing 5 of 8 passes for 110 yards and a 26-yard TD to Jones on fourth down. Summers entered the game on ECU’s first possession of the second quarter.
“He ran better than we tackled,” Hokies coach Frank Beamer said simply.
“We just didn’t really plan for it,” Ekanem said. “We heard he was going to get a few touches here and there. … So I’m not saying we were underprepared, but we just weren’t ready for it.”
Brenden Motley ran and threw for a score for the Hokies, who jumped to a 14-0 lead by capitalizing on two early turnovers only to squander that lead by the end of the opening quarter.
Virginia Tech had won two straight since an opening loss to top-ranked Ohio State, and was coming off a big offensive performance in last week’s win at Purdue. But they ended up losing to the Pirates for the second straight season, both coming by seven-point margins, while ECU ended its own two-game skid.
The Pirates secured this one with a final-drive stop, with Motley’s desperation heave downfield falling incomplete and well short of the end zone to end it.
Kemp shook off a disastrous start that included turnovers on his first two drives, which gave the Hokies short fields that they converted into touchdowns for a 14-0 lead. But Kemp bounced back in leading a pair of scoring drives, with his 11-yard TD throw to Brown — who was back from a three-game suspension — tying it at 14 to end the first quarter.
Virginia Tech linebacker Sean Huelskamp was ejected for targeting when he tackled a sliding Summers midway through the fourth.