17th Ranked Cincinnati Escapes With a 46-43 Win Over ECU
ECU’s upset bid against #17 Cincinnati came up just short when Sam Crosa’s 32-yard field goal as time expired gave the Bearcats a 46-43 victory Saturday night in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
Ahmad Gardner’s 62-yard pick six interception made it 43-40 on an ill advised Holton Ahlers pass into the left flat with 4:38 to play. That gave Cincinnati the lead for the first time since a 21-14 lead late in the first quarter.
Jake Verity answered with his third field goal of the game from 27-yards on the ensuing drive to tie the game. The Bearcats then marched down the field at the end to get into position for Crosa's game winning field goal. In doing so, Cincinnati improved to 7-1 on the season and 4-0 in AAC play.
“This was not the best that we’ve played. Offensively, I think we played really well, but we really struggled emotionally in that first half," Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell said, “They made some special plays. Yes, there’s some things we have to do better, but you have to give them a ton of credit.”
First year ECU head coach Mike Houston can take a boat load of positives from the game despite coming up three points short. The light switch finally turned on for his young ball club and that has to give the Pirates a great deal of confidence heading into the final three games of the season.
Houston talked about what made the big difference in his team’s overall performance against the nationally ranked Bearcats.
“They didn’t doubt themselves. They didn’t hesitate. They went and played and played with confidence and you cannot underestimate confidence in any sport,” said Houston, We should have won. The kids played great. We let them off the hook.”
“When you believe in yourself, it makes all the difference in the world. That’s the thing. Nobody can give it to you. I can’t give them confidence. You have to go earn confidence. You earn through practice and making the play in practice and seeing yourself make the play on film and go out and do it in the ballgame. Once you’ve done it, you believe you can do it.”
Even though things did not turn out how ECU(3-6/0-5 AAC) had hoped, they showed great improvement. The Pirates got a pair of record setting performances from Ahlers who set an all-time ECU record with 535 passing yards to go along with four touchdowns on 32 of 52 passing. He was joined by freshman wide receiver C.J. Johnson who set both the ECU and AAC all-time record with 283 yards on 12 receptions.
Freshman receiver Jai Hatfield also put together a stellar performance, setting career-highs with six catches for 96 yards. Hatfield caught his first career touchdown pass in the third quarter and four of six receptions went for ten yards or more. All told, Hatfield had 113 all-purpose yards, the most in his collegiate career.
Jake Verity had another sound kicking performancel with three field goals - two from 27 yards and another from 20 yards out. His 27-yarder with 1:10 to play tied the contest at 43-43.
Ahlers and Johnson, both from of nearby DH Conley High School in Greenville, talked about getting the records in what turned out to be a losing cause Saturday night.
“It means a lot. Obviously, I grew up going to games and thinking what I could be here, but we’re young and we lost tonight. I made a decision there at the end that cost us on a pick six. It was a play call, it was a hitch," Ahlers told PirateIllustrated.com afterward, "We threw it early on. It was off coverage. He kind of baited me into it. I should have known he was going to bait me but you’ve just got to learn from it. That one was on me, but it (the record) means a lot. A win would mean a lot more, but we’ll build from it and get better from it.”
Johnson gave a great deal of the credit to his teammates for putting him in a position to make so many plays but having said that, Johnson made several circus catches and was extremely hard to bring down after the catch.
“It means a lot, but honestly, I couldn’t do it without my team. If we don’t have the offensive line protecting for him to throw me the ball, I can’t get the ball, Johnson told PI, ”If we don’t have other guys running routes to take away defenders then I wouldn’t be open.”
All told, the Pirates had the football for 24 more plays and eight minutes more than the Bearcats. In the process, ECU rolled up 638 yards of total offense to 487 for Cincinnati.
Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder led the Bearcats with 162 yards through the air and two touchdown passes to go along with 146 yards on the ground. He got an abundance of help from running back Michael Warren who rushed for 143 yards and scored three touchdowns.
The Pirates hit the road next week to take on a nationally ranked SMU team in Dallas that narrowly suffered its first loss of the season in a close 54-48 defeat at the hands of nationally ranked Memphis Saturday night.
After Saturday night's game, Mike Houston delivered his press conference and PI was there to also catch the postgame comments of ECU defensive back Daniel Charles who had two interceptions for the Pirates along with defensive lineman Alex Turner, wide receiver C.J. Johnson and quarterback Holton Ahlers.