Cincinnati Takes Down ECU 35-13 To Remain Undefeated
(4)Cincinnati made relatively easy work of East Carolina Friday afternoon in a 35-13 win in Dowdy-Ficken Stadium to remain undefeated at 12-0. They will now head to the AAC Championship game where the Bearcats will take on Houston for the league title.
ECU(7-5/5-3 AAC) had ample opportunity to make a game of it, but turnovers and the inability to muster first downs at key times in the second half proved to be the difference in the Pirates’ fifth loss of the season.
All told, the Bearcats put together 442 yards of total offense including 301 passing yards and two touchdowns from senior quarterback Desmond Ridder. Cincinnati got 83 yards on the ground from Jerome Ford and eight catches from Alec Pierce for 136 yards and a touchdown in the victory.
ECU generated just 280 offensive yards including 228 passing yards from Holton Ahlers who didn’t have his best day accuracy wise. Ahlers did complete 19 of 38 including a 12-yard touchdown to Jsi Hatfield to go along with one interception, but he was sacked three times and the Bearcats applied defensive pressure all afternoon. The Cincinnati defense also limited Keaton Mitchell to just 55 ground yards and only 29 yards rushing from Rahjai Harris.
Tyler Snead and Ryan Jones both pulled down ten catches each for the Pirates for 91 and 74 yards respectively along with seven receptions from Audi Omotosho and four catches for 48 yards from Jsi Hatfield who has been hobbled late in the season.
“Jsi is finally back healthy, so it’s good to get him out there,” said ECU head coach Mike Houston, “C.J. had a bruised shin and wasn’t full speed in the second half.”
Snead talked about what was effective for Cincinnati defensively.
“They had a great scheme. Switching up who was rushing between backers and line and then their secondary is pretty good, so hats off to them, they played a good game,” said Snead who talked about ECU’s chances of winning.
“It was very winnable. Like Coach Houston said in the locker room, everybody on that team came in and we thought we were going to win during the game and before the game,” Snead told PirateIllustrated.com, “We made some mistakes that can be corrected so that’s a good thing. Obviously the outcome isn’t the way we wanted it, but we can get those things fixed.”
For Coach Houston, it was another learning opportunity for his young team and another building block as the Pirates head into post season bowl play.
“Obviously disappointed in the outcome. Cincinnati is a good football team. You see why they are undefeated, you see why they’re ranked 4th in the country and you see why they’re in contention for a national championship,” said Houston, “I thought our kids played really, really hard. We did so many things well, but we made some critical mistakes that you just can’t make if you’re going to win that ballgame. When you play a team of that caliber, that’s what you hope to avoid.”
“For our young players it’s a great learning experience and we’re going to be in these ballgames a lot over the next several years and we’ve got to take that and learn from it,” Houston stated.
After going nowhere on ECU’s initial drive of the day followed by a blocked punt, Cincinnati took over at the ECU 32-yard line, but a loss of ten on third down forced a missed 45-yard Cincinnati field goal attempt from Alex Bales.
Three Holton Ahlers to Ryan Jones pass completions and two more to Tyler Snead led to a 35-yard Owen Daffer field goal and an early 3-0 ECU lead. It would prove to be ECU’s only lead of the game.
Early in the second quarter Desmond Ridder found tight end Leonard Taylor on a 44-yard touchdown strike to cap a 76-yard drive and give Cincinnati a 7-3 lead. Then a 53-yard Ridder to Alec Pierce pass hookup set up a two-yard Jerome Ford touchdown and Cincinnati was off and running with a 14-3 cushion.
Ridder then found Alec Pearce for the second time in the game on a 28-yard touchdown strike in the end zone for a commanding 21-3 lead.
Pirate safety Teagan Wilk forced a Jerome Ford fumble at the ECU five yard line late in the half that was recovered by Ja’Quan McMillian at the nine yard line or it could have been even worse for the Pirates heading into the locker room at the break.
Ridder passed for 243 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the first half for Cincinnati(12-0/8-0 AAC) on 12 of 15 passing while the Bearcats limited Holton Ahlers to just 62 yards. The Pirates rushed for a net of just 15 yards while Cincinnati had 82 first half rushing yards including 54 from Jerome Ford and one touchdown.
ECU scored their second field goal of the day when an offsides call on Cincinnati on a missed 49-yard ECU field goal attempt that gave Owen Daffer a second chance where he connected from 44-yards to cut the lead to 21-6.
Ahlers completions to Jsi Hatfield and Ryan Jones put the ball on the Cincinnati five yard line where after a holding call and pair of unproductive plays, ECU attempted a field goal that was blocked by Arquan Bush, picked up and returned 40 yards for a touchdown by Ahmad Gardner in a 28-6 contest with 11:17 remaining.
Less than two minutes later, Ahlers found Hatfield again on a twelve yard strike to trim the Cincinnati lead to 28-13 for his only touchdown pass of the day.
Darrian Beavers’ interception of Holton Ahlers on the negative 29-yard line on the ensuing ECU drive looked to spell disaster for the Pirates as Ridder then found Alec Pierce to the nine yard line. Then a Jerome Ford run to the four yard line followed by a pass to Josh Whyle to the two led to a Gerrard Stringer ECU interception in the end zone making twice that the Pirates turned Cincinnati away in the red zone.
But ECU was unable to capitalize on offense and Cincinnati turned that into points on a two-yard Ryan Montgomery touchdown with just 1:44 to play to put the game on ice at 35-13.
Senior linebacker Aaron Ramseur led East Carolina with eight tackles along with seven from cornerback Malik Fleming and six stops from defensive end Jeremy Lewis.
"We came into this game really confident. Like Snead and Coach Houston said everybody thought we were going to win. We didn't care about them being ranked number four in the nation," Ramseur told PI, "They have been a real good disciplined team and we knew we had to be a real good disciplined defense. It just seemed like they took advantage of the little mistakes and the little details and if you take away two or three plays it could have been a tight ballgame."
With seven wins, ECU will now await their bowl selection.
"This game is also a big game for the program and we want to come out with a win. We see the importance, even coming into Cincinnati we weren't playing for a conference championship. We still have something to play for and we love this program and take it seriously," Ramseur stated, "That's a big part of going to this bowl game and getting a win. We know it's going to do a lot for the program. We know that we get to leave ECU with a big bang and I wouldn't want to leave any other way. It's just a blessing to get to a bowl game so there is no way we would not take it seriously. It took a lot to get there so we plan to take advantage of it and get a ring. I want to show my kids a ring from ECU.