PirateIllustrated - East Carolina Shuts Down Temple 45-3
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East Carolina Shuts Down Temple 45-3

East Carolina's Jirah Wilson shakes the football loose from Temple tight end Jordan Smith in Saturday's 45-3 win.
East Carolina's Jirah Wilson shakes the football loose from Temple tight end Jordan Smith in Saturday's 45-3 win. (USA Today photo)

East Carolina made easy work of Temple Saturday afternoon in a 45-3 Military Day win on Hall of Fame Weekend in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

It all started with a stingy Pirate defense that got seven tackles from linebacker Myles Berry and five each from fellow linebackers Bruce Bivens, Xavier Smith and safety Warren Saba. That gave the ECU offense countless chances to put points on the scoreboard and they took full advantage of the opportunity.

“Me and a lot of my teammates that I came in with, we’ve got a real tight bond, especially going through Covid together,” said defensive lineman Elijah Morris who recorded a pair of tackles for a loss and a sack, “Then the way it’s changed this year, we’ve got a lot more experience. That year really helped us to build and to really figure out how to play college football and get a feel for it.”

For Myles Berry, it was a proud outing for an ECU defense that continues to get better every week under defensive coordinator Blake Harrell.

“It feels great. It shows how far we’ve come and how far we are still climbing to be,” said Berry, “Beating a team like Temple in that type of fashion is definitely how we play and how we want our identity to be like from here on out.”

Holton Ahlers threw for an efficient 191 yards on 16 of 24 passing with three touchdowns, two of which went to tight end Ryan Jones. The Pirates also got 146 ground yards to go along with a pair of touchdowns from shifty, speedster running back Keaton Mitchell and 49 more from Rahjai Harris.

While both Ahlers and backup Mason Garcia threw an interception, there was more good than bad offensively on Saturday from the Pirates.

“Our program has changed a lot from my freshman year when we went to Philly and in the first quarter it was done,” said Ahlers, “To be in Dowdy tonight and have that score and to not play in the fourth quarter is a super blessing just to be a part of this program changing. It’s definitely something I’ll cherish forever and these seniors will cherish forever. It’s something that we’re proud of. We have a lot of work to do, but it’s cool to be in the moment too.”

Jones had his best night as a Pirate in a season full of tight end highlights.He looked more like a wideout than a tight end in the process.

“I’m very versatile because in high school I played mainly receiver, so I’ve still got some of those tendencies even after gaining weight,” Jones told PirateIllustrated.com, “I’m pretty mobile.”

While ECU head coach Mike Houston remains disciplined and taking it one game at a time, he said he had an inkling that his team was ready to go on Saturday.

“Obviously I’m really excited about the performance of our group tonight. I felt like we had a really good week of practice. Yesterday was as sharp of a walk-through as we have had. At 7:30 this morning they were chomping at the bit,” said Houston, “I was a little worried about us being too excited to play today. I knew we were ready to play and I knew we were going to play well.”

“This is the first win at home against Temple since 1996. That’s a long time,” Houston said, “Some of the kids talked about how badly Temple beat them their freshman and sophomore years, just embarrassing performances. So to see our group of older kids go out there and play that way against that program at home, that’s just a really impressive performance by those kids.”

Ahlers found Jones on a 33-yard touchdown strike down the middle of the field for an 7-0 East Carolina(5-4/3-2 AAC) lead late in the first quarter before finding Jones again with 8:18 to go in the half on a 28-yard dime in the left corner of the end zone to expand the Pirate lead to 14-0.

The Pirates got on the scoreboard for the third time in the first half on a nine-yard Ahlers strike to his other tight end Shane Calhoun for a 21-0 lead with 1:33 to go before halftime.

Ahlers passed for 103 yards of ECU’s 221 total offensive yards in the first two quarters with three touchdowns while the Pirate defense held Temple to just 74 yards of total offense in the first half. Owl quarterback D’Wan Mathas left the game with an injury in the second quarter after completing 7 of 13 passes for just 37 yards.

Temple ended up with just 168 yards of total offense and just 57 yards through the air for the game.

Keaton Mitchell’s 57-yard touchdown gallop highlighted ECU’s first drive of the second half to put the Pirates up 28-0 before Mitchell's four-yard touchdown later in the third quarter expanded the lead to 35-0. The East Carolina lead then grew to 42-0 early in the fourth quarter on a Holton Ahlers one-yard keeper.

Temple(3-6/1-4 AAC) finally got on the scoreboard after an interception of ECU backup quarterback Mason Garcia that led to a 46-yard Rory Bell field goal in a 42-3 contest with 6:55 remaining.

The Pirates scored once more in the last four minutes of the game on a 24-yard Owen Daffer field goal as the lead improved to 45-3 to cap an eight play 24-yard drive.

East Carolina hits the road next week looking to become bowl eligible when they take on Memphis at 12 noon on ESPN+.