Fifteen days is all that stands between ECU and a matchup with UCF in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium that will kick-off its 2020 football season. Leading up to their third and final scrimmage of the preseason that is scheduled for later today, the Pirates have been preparing like game week, which culminated in a helmeted practice on Thursday.

“Had a really upbeat spirited helmeted practice today,” head football coach Mike Houston said on Thursday. “Been very pleased with how well this team has practiced in our helmets situation. A lot of young teams sometimes get in a helmeted practice and they think it’s a walk-through and they don’t practice fast or as focused as they should. But we’ve had a couple of helmeted practices here recently that I’ve been very, very pleased with the effort and focus and concentration.”

With the team bought into those helmeted practices, Houston said that will allow the coaching staff to take it easy on the players leading into games during the season since helmeted practices do not require much contact. While there was not much contact in practice on Thursday, there is plenty on tap for what should be an extremely competitive final scrimmage of camp.

Today’s game-like scrimmage will act as something of a rubber match between the offense and defense. ECU’s defensive unit claimed victory in the first installment, forcing multiple turnovers and flashing some of its potential despite being largely youthful and inexperienced.

Holton Ahlers and company, however, bounced back and took the second scrimmage with four touchdowns and a 17-for-20 effort from the junior quarterback. At the end of both scrimmages, Houston said there was plenty of good-natured ribbing present, something he has allowed more of this season to help lighten the mood in what has been a tense few months.

Ahead of today’s scrimmage, that talking has returned for the Pirates and will be put to the test in game-like situations this afternoon.

“It’s 1’s against 1’s, 2’s against 2’s,” Houston said. “We are going to have live special teams work. We’re going to play it game regulation, meaning I don’t really have a script for tomorrow, we’re going to play the ball wherever it lands. Kinda alternate which unit is the 1’s depending on the situation and who’s going and try to get as close to a game as possible, let the officials handle everything. Then try to simulate some of the late-game scenarios that we’ve been working on so much this week.”

In the past two scrimmages, the coaching staff has rotated players in an attempt to get everyone meaningful reps this preseason. A little more than two weeks away from the opener, however, this scrimmage will likely only feature the 1’s and 2’s at the top of the two-deep and perhaps some additional depth players.

Today will also officially mark the end of the traditional preseason camp. Two weeks out from kick-off, Houston and his staff will likely turn away from conditioning drills and largely focus on game planning for a potentially nationally ranked UCF team on Sept. 26. That will begin on Monday as Houston has said previously that Saturday will be something of an off-day, with Sunday serving a film study day.

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