Hokies, Pirates meet in regional series full of close games

GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) East Carolina has long had a scheduling philosophy built around playing power-conference teams and bringing marquee names to its rowdy home stadium.

For Virginia Tech, it's a perfect regional fit.

The teams meet Saturday for the eighth time in nine seasons, continuing a series that runs through 2020 and keeps producing close finishes.

''I think it's good for both sides,'' Hokies coach Frank Beamer said. ''Scheduling's not an easy thing anymore. You've got to find people that want to play you and you want to play them. When you find a team you can schedule long-term like we have with East Carolina, it's a real, real plus.''

If the pattern from recent meetings holds, expect another game that comes down to the final minutes.

Last year the Pirates (1-2) went to Blacksburg a week after the Hokies (2-1) had upset Ohio State and won 28-21 with a final minute touchdown. In 2011 and 2013, Virginia Tech came to Greenville and shut down the Pirates' high-scoring attack, but still needed stops in the final 4 minutes to secure a pair of wins by one-possession margins.

The 2015 teams share at least one similarity: both have had to adjust their preseason depth chart at quarterback due to injury.

The Hokies lost starter Michael Brewer in the opening loss to Ohio State, pushing Brenden Motley into the starting lineup. Motley threw for two touchdowns and ran for another in last week's 51-24 win at Purdue, the Hokies' best scoring output in five years.

As for the Pirates, junior college transfer Blake Kemp is preparing for his fourth straight start. He lost a preseason battle for the starting job to Kurt Benkert, but Benkert suffered a season-ending knee injury a week later that forced the Pirates to hurry Kemp into the lineup.

He's responded with two straight 300-yard games in losses at Florida and Navy.

''It's not a conference game, but it's a game that gets a lot of publicity and a lot of fans,'' Kemp said. ''And if you can't get excited for that, you have to check your pulse.''

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Here are some things to watch in Saturday's Virginia Tech-East Carolina game:

RUNNING PIRATES? East Carolina's rushing attack hasn't managed much during the past two games. And in the 2011 and 2013 home losses to the Hokies, the Pirates ran for a combined 31 yards. A repeat will make it hard for ECU to beat Virginia Tech at home for the first time since 1992.

BIG BRYCE: While Isaiah Jones (242 yards) is ECU's top receiver, 6-foot-6 tight end Bryce Williams has been racking up the catches from Blake Kemp. He's had 14 catches and three touchdowns in the past two games, and a big red-zone target could come in handy against the Hokies.

MOTLEY'S CREW: Hokies QB Brenden Motley has been very efficient since taking over for the injured Michael Brewer, completing 61 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and just one interception. He did fumble twice last weekend at Purdue and the Hokies need him to avoid turnovers that can swing momentum quickly.

ROAD WARRIORS: Since 1999, Virginia Tech is a remarkable 19-2 in games played in North Carolina, including 4-0 at East Carolina.

BROWN'S IMPACT: Pirates receiver Trevon Brown can return from a three-game absence after being placed on probation for a violation of the school's student code of conduct. He had a big game against North Carolina last year but offensive coordinator Dave Nichol was noncommittal about his playing time. ''We'll see how the competition goes this week,'' he said. ''We've got a bunch of guys step up in his absence.''

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AP Sports Writer Hank Kurz in Richmond, Virginia contributed to this report.

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Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap and the AP's college football site at http://collegefootball.ap.org .

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