East Carolina Tops UConn 31-24
ECU came into Saturday’s game looking to get their fourth win of the season for the first time in four years and they got it with a hard earned 31-24 victory at UConn when a Colby Gore interception at the one yard line ended a late UConn scoring threat with one second to go in the game.
Holton Ahlers passed for 374 yards and a touchdown to go along with a touchdown run in the win. Meanwhile, Darius Pinnix returned from a season long neck injury to rush for 105 yards on 27 carries and two touchdowns. Tyler Snead had another big day too with 16 catches & 126 yards to help the Pirates snap a five game losing streak.
Ahler’s two-yard run with 3:31 to go in the fourth quarter broke a tie game to give East Carolina a 31-24 lead. The Pirates then held on for the victory and their first AAC win of the season. It was one that the Pirates could ill afford to squander and afterward, first year ECU head coach Mike Houston was both relieved and complementary of his team's performance.
“Winning on the road is tough,” said Houston, “I’ve played a lot of games in the Northeast and anytime you can get a win it’s great. What a gutsy stand right there by our defense on the last play. We had some mistakes, but our kids just kept fighting back. Certainly our ability to run the football was a big factor today too.”
“The process that they’re invested in is working and they know that they’re so close and they’re doing such a great job. We just want to keep moving forward. The program has such a bright future, but this was such a huge win for us today,” Houston said.
Ahlers has now thrown for nearly 1,400 yards in the last three games alone and the win on Saturday was big to get the Pirates over the proverbial hump with just one game to go next week at home against Tulsa.
“It means a lot. We’ve been fighting for win number four for it seems like a couple of years now. For us to finally get it and hopefully get number five next week as we move into the offseason is big,” said ECU quarterback Holton Ahlers, “We’ve got a lot of fight in us. There was never a moment when we thought we were going to lose the game. We’ve been through a lot and we trusted each other throughout the whole game. It was a lot closer than it should have been, but a win is a win.”
For Pinnix, missing the last eight games has been tough. He has been chomping at the bit to make his return and he got that chance on Saturday.
“It’s just a blessing to be out there because we weren’t sure if I was going to be back this season,” said Pinnix, “It was just a lot of holes that the O-line opened up for me. I’m thankful for that. We just played our game. We knew what we were capable of doing. We knew we could get it done, so props to our O-line and especially Holton Ahlers and our receivers. We’ve got a great receiver corp.”
The Pirates have forced at least one turnover in ten straight games which is the most since 2013 and Colby Gore, who got the game ending interception, deflected any credit to those in front of him, namely the East Carolina defensive line.
“I’d like to give a shoutout to the D-line,” said defensive back Colby Gore, “They were rushing their butts off all game. Every time I looked up they had a sack and I was thinking the ball was coming, but it was the D-line that pretty much caused a lot of those plays. I’d like to thank them for putting me in a position to make a play.”
UConn(2-9/0-7 AAC) worked their way deep into ECU territory late in the game on a pair of quality pass catches from Donovan Williams and Matt Drayton of 23 and 34 yards. Then on fourth-and-four at the Pirate 15-yard line, Jack Zergiotis kept the drive alive with a pass for a first down followed by another reception to the five yard line. But the Pirate defense managed to hang on late to end the UConn scoring threat and ECU ultimately held on for the victory.
All told, Zergiotis went 21 for 37 for 418 yards and three touchdowns with a pair of interceptions for UConn at quarterback. Cam Ross had eight of those pass catches for 169 yards and a pair of touchdowns. But the ECU defense held Kevin Mensah to just 75 yards on 20 carries and that might be the biggest factor of all defensively.
Linebacker Xavier Smith recorded a team high eight stops for ECU to go along with seven tackles each from Gore and senior defensive end Kendall Futrell to lead the Pirates on defense.
“We had seen Mensah all week on film and knew he was a good player so we had to prepare hard for him,” said Futrell, “We came out and executed. We were telling each other that we’ve got to get a stop at this point in the game. Whatever it takes we’ve got to give all we’ve got for the team. We all wanted finish strong and get our fourth win so we fought hard and we got it.”
ECU moves on to take on Tulsa next Saturday for Senior Day in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Kickoff is at high noon on ESPNU.
Quavon Skanes 38 yard punt return led to a Cameron Ross 45-yard touchdown reception from Jack Zergiotis on UConn’s first snap of the game for a quick 7-0 lead just two minutes into the contest. That after the UConn defense broke serve on the first ECU offensive drive of the day.
Jake Verity got ECU on the scoreboard with six minutes to go in the quarter with a 26-yard field goal to make the score 7-3 in an eleven play 60 yard Pirate offensive drive that stalled in the redzone.
ECU(4-7/1-6 AAC) scored again on a Darius Pinnix three-yard touchdown run that capped an eight play 83 yard drive highlighted by a pair of nifty C.J. Johnson pass catches that put the Pirates in the redone. Suddenly it was a 10-7 ballgame with 1:11 left in the first quarter.
Zach Byrd’s third touchdown catch of the season late in the second quarter on a 17-yard toss from Holton Ahlers capped a 13 play, 90 yard drive and had ECU up 17-7. Byrd’s touchdown was his third in the last three straight games which is ECU’s longest streak from a tight end since Bryce Williams back in 2013.
Ahlers went 20 of 32 for 238 yards a touchdown and one interception in the first half for ECU. Jack Zergiotis was limited to 126 yards on 9 of 15 passing with one touchdown and one interception late in the half near the goal line to ECU’s Tank Robinson that halted a UConn drive just before halftime. The pick gave ECU at least one turnover in the last ten straight games and was their ninth of the season.
Jay Rose’s 20-yard touchdown catch from Zergiotis less than two minutes into the second half capped a four play 75 yard drive that quickly cut the Pirate lead to just three at 17-14.
A pair of Ahlers completions led to a Darius Pinnix’s second touchdown of the game from one yard out to extend the ECU lead to 24-14 with 10:34 to go in the third quarter.
UConn put together a quality drive late in the third quarter but a Kendall Futrell ten yard sack limited UConn to a 27-yard Clayton Harris field goal that made the score 24-17 early in the fourth quarter.
The Huskies tied the game at 24-24 on a 93-yard touchdown pass from Zergiotis to Cameron Ross with 9:28 to go and they got the football back on an interception but were unable to turn it into points when a 50-yard Clayton Harris field goal attempt was wide left.
ECU then put together a quality nine play 68 yard drive behind the running of Darius Pinnix and the throwing of Holton Ahlers that led to a two-yard Ahlers keeper to give the Pirates a 31-24 lead with 3:31 remaining. ECU held on from there defensively and picked up their fourth win of the season.