PirateIllustrated - East Carolina Falls 51-28 to UCF In The Season Opener
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East Carolina Falls 51-28 to UCF In The Season Opener

Darius Pinnix finds daylight against the UCF defense in Saturday's home opener in Greenville.
Darius Pinnix finds daylight against the UCF defense in Saturday's home opener in Greenville. (ECU Football photo)

Despite a bit of a slow start, UCF ultimately got the better of ECU 51-28 on Saturday in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

Dillon Gabriel threw for 408 yards and four touchdowns the 2-0 Knights while Greg McCrae and Ben Thompson added 83 and 77 yards rushing in the win.

All told, the Knights rolled up the second most yards against ECU in a Pirate season opener with 632 yards of total offense. In doing so, the Knights were just two yards away from eclipsing Syracuse’s record 634 yards of offense back in 1991. That after putting up 660 yards last week against Georgia Tech.

Holton Ahlers threw for 215 yards and three touchdowns for ECU and rushed for 55 more to go along with 66 rushing yards from Keaton Mitchell to lead the Pirate running backs.

ECU got on the scoreboard first on a Darius Pinnix 17-yard touchdown catch to cap a 9-play, 75-yd drive to open the game. Then UCF quickly answered on a one-yard Tre-mon Morris Brash run that tied the game at 7-7.

After the game, ECU head coach Mike Houston was both encouraged by his team’s possibilities on Saturday, but disappointed with the way turnovers played such a big part in keeping his team from bringing a more positive outcome to fruition.

“I loved our first drive offensively. We took it down, got seven points, got going and really had an opportunity to get some control of the ballgame and had three turnovers there in the first quarter,” said Houston, “You’re around midfield and you have a chance to stick the ball in again and take control of the game and get a lead on what everybody regards as the best team in our league and those mistakes you just can’t keep making them.”

Houston saw signs of life in his defense under new defensive coordinator Blake Harrell and there were positives offensively too that could eventually provide ECU the basis for increased football success.

“I was encouraged by the way our defense competed all throughout the day. I thought the offense showed some flashes, but I’d be lying to you if I told you that I thought we played up to our expectations offensively and the kids know it. They’re disappointed and I believe in them.”

"The reason I’m disappointed is because I think we have some of the best running backs in the league and one of the best quarterbacks in the league and some of the best receivers in the league,” Houston stated, "Our offensive line is so improved and I have high expectations for them and we didn’t live up to them today.”

Daniel Obarski’s 26-yard field goal gave UCF a three point late in the first quarter before the Knights extended the lead to 13-7 midway into the second quarter on a 33-yard Obarski field goal.Then the UCF lead grew to 13 points at 20-7 on a 64-yard Jalen Robinson touchdown catch from Dillon Gabriel. A seven yard Jake Hescock touchdown grab with just 24 seconds to go before halftime then found UCF up 27-7.

“We’ve got to improve, that’s it. The kids showed that they’re going to play hard and play with some physicality, intensity and energy and that’s a key,” Houston told PirateIllustrated.com afterward, “But we’ve got to limit the mistakes. I was hoping we wouldn’t have those in the first game, but reality is you usually go through that. If you don’t have the turnovers and penalties it’s a different game but we did so we’ve got to fix them."

Of UCF’s 374 total yards in the first two quarters, 263 of them came through the air on 18 of 28 passing from Dillon Gabriel. A lot of that happened on the heels of ECU turnovers in scoring position. That is something that didn’t sit right with ECU quarterback Holton Ahlers.

“We had drives going there and we stopped ourselves. It starts with me. I had the fumble. I’ve got to be better and we’re just going to work this week and get better from that,” said Ahlers, “Obviously we started hot. We felt like the game plan was good. We knew their first quarter was explosive and we wanted to be that way too and we were other than the turnovers.”

“They are one of the best teams in the country and one of the best teams in the conference,” Ahlers told PI, "I believe we’ve got a pretty good team too and we’ve just got to go out and battle a little bit better and I’m going to take that in and continue to get better this week."

Jacob Harris’ 11-yard touchdown catch got the Knights off to a fast start in the third quarter in a 33-7 contest just two minutes into the second half. Jalen Robinson’s nine yard scoring catch then made it 41-7 to cap a six play 55-yard drive.

ECU(0-1/0-1 AAC) finally got back on the scoreboard on a 37-yard Ahlers to C.J. Johnson touchdown connection in a 41-14 contest. Then just under a minute and a half into the fourth quarter, Daniel Obarski’s 31-yard field goal made it 44-14 UCF.

Darius Pinnix got ECU into the end zone again with just over eight minutes remaining for ECU’s third touchdown of the day to cap a twelve play 75-yard drive. But Johnny Richardson’s 31-yard UCF touchdown just added insult to injury before a Tyler Sneed catch added an ECU touchdown with just 19 seconds remaining to cap the scoring.

Linebacker Xavier Smith saw positives in the way ECU’s defense played, especially early in the contest.

“I knew the first game there were going to be a few wrinkles because it’s a weird year and they already had that one game under their belt, but if we have to be somewhere, we have to be there,” said Smith, "If we are not, that’s where those big plays occur. We’ve just got to execute better.”

The Pirates hit the road next Saturday for game two of the season against Georgia State. Stay tuned for more on the UCF game and coverage all next week as ECU gets ready for the Panthers.