ECU’s bye week may have fallen at a bad time for the momentum of the team after its performance against Navy, but it came at a great time to help the physical well-being of the Pirates.

In their 27-23 loss against Navy, the Pirates played without junior quarterback Holton Ahlers following a positive COVID-19 test earlier in the week. At least four others were quarantined due to contact tracing, meaning late last week or early this week would be the earlier those players could resume activities.

“We’ve got most of them back,” Houston said. “We’ll be without a few guys this Friday, but we’re getting a lot of them back from quarantine and isolation. We’re getting some of our guys that have been nicked up a little bit, getting a few more of those guys back as well. It’s certainly good to have Holton back at practice. He practiced well on Saturday, looked very sharp. Expecting to have a great week with him as far as preparation goes.”

On Saturday, ECU’s football Twitter page posted an image of Ahlers back at practice, a good sign for a team that travels to Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Friday. Without the bye week, there is a good chance Ahlers, Darius Pinnix Jr., Demetrius Mauney, Damir Faison and Davondre Robinson would have missed two contests instead of just one.

Everything being moved up to accommodate the Friday kick-off, Houston said his team conducted COVID-19 testing on Monday and will do so again on Tuesday. Antigen testing is scheduled for Thursday morning before the Pirates depart for Oklahoma in the afternoon.

With an extra week to prepare and rest up for the Golden Hurricane, the Pirates are also inching closer to getting two of their injured offensive linemen back.

“I think there’s a chance you’ll see D’Ante (Smith),” Houston said. “He’s progressing along well and starting to practice a little bit more. Noah (Henderson) is probably still going to be (out) a while.”

Smith made his team-leading 30th career start in the season-opener but has been nursing an injury for the last month, leaving Nishad Strother to fill-in at left tackle. Henderson, who is expected to fill a big role at tackle for ECU after starting four games in 2019, has yet to make his season debut. In his absence, redshirt junior Bailey Malovic and graduate transfer Justin Chase have picked up the majority of reps at right tackle.

With some additional guys becoming available for Houston and his coaching staff, excitement has already begun to build for yet another nationally televised game. Friday’s contest will kick-off at 9 p.m. on Friday and be televised on ESPN2 against a Tulsa team that received votes in the coaches Top-25 poll this week.

“Excited coming off the bye,” Houston said. “Was able to get some guys rest and get a head start on Tulsa with it being a Friday night game. For us and the program, today is Tuesday, for everybody else in the world, today is Monday. We started practice on Saturday for the game this coming Friday. It’s going to be a quick week, the kids will be excited to kick-off Friday night and get another chance to play on the national stage. Should be an exciting matchup for us.”

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