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ECU Comeback Attempt Falls Short in a 41-28 Loss to UCF

East Carolina quarterback Holton Ahlers passed for a season high 313 yards in a 41-28 loss to UCF.
East Carolina quarterback Holton Ahlers passed for a season high 313 yards in a 41-28 loss to UCF. (ECU Football photo)

In a tale of two halves, UCF held on in the second half after building a 29-point halftime cushion to pick up a 41-28 win over an inspired ECU team Saturday night in Spectrum Stadium in Orlando.

The Knights got solid outings from quarterback Dillon Gabriel who passed for 385 yards and two touchdowns, he ran for another and Gabirel Davis who had nine catches for 164 yards and two touchdowns in the win. Otis Anderson led the Knights’ ground game with 80 yards on 18 carries.

UCF(5-2/2-1 AAC) piled up 611 yards of total offense to 483 for ECU in the victory. Both teams ran over 80 plays from scrimmage and had 31 first downs apiece.

The Knights played without the services of speedster running back Adrian Killins who mysteriously sat the game out.

ECU got off to a tremendously slow start, spotting UCF a 29-point halftime cushion in what looked to be a sure blowout before the Pirates’ halftime adjustments provided every chance to come back in the second half. ECU held UCF to just six second half points.

Despite the slow start, Holton Ahlers passed for a season high 313 yards and a late eight-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Snead with 1:38 to play to go along with one interception. C.J. Johnson tied a career high eight catches to lead the ECU receiving corp to go along with four from Snead. Demetrius Mauney rushed for a career high 74-yards and a touchdown before leaving the game late in the fourth quarter with a leg injury.

Jake Verity kicked three field goals for the Pirates.

“We ran out of time. We just couldn’t convert enough in the second half,” said ECU head coach Mike Houston, “We had our shots. I wish we had a couple of those chances back in the red zone.”

Houston was encouraged by the play of his Pirate team in the second half.

“That uptempo, high tempo offense that everybody was worried about, I mean they’re having to milk the clock at the end of the ballgame to put it away,” said Houston, “If nothing else I think our team has shown that this isn’t the old ECU. We’ve just got to get to where we finish these games with a W. We’re getting better.”

UCF rolled up 418 yards of total offense in the first half alone. That included 250 in the first quarter and 274 first half passing yards from Dillon Gabriel who completed 17 of 22 with two touchdowns.

Aaron Ramseur led the ECU defense with 14 tackles including seven solo stops and a pair of tackles for a loss. Houston said that was the product of hard work during the bye week.

“He had a good open week of practice and you saw a lot of new starters and those kids earned the right to go in there first by the way they practiced during the week.”

Daniel Charles registered eight stops for ECU. Alex Turner had seven, Chance Purvis added six tackles and Colby Gore and Kendall Futrell added five apiece. Futrell added a pair of sacks for ECU(3-4/0-3 AAC).

The Knights only punted once in the entire first half and that didn’t come until 3:23 remaining in the second quarter. However, ECU forced three punts early in the second half and quickly turned two of them into scores to turn a 35-6 game into a 35-16 contest on a 1-yard Demetrius Mauney touchdown and a pair of Jake Verity field goals.

An ECU blocked a punt early in the third quarter gave ECU the football on the one-yard line. That led to ECU’s first touchdown of the evening when one play later, Demetrius Mauney’s one-yard touchdown plunge made it a 35-13 contest.

“We decided going into it that if we got the right opportunity - and that was the perfect opportunity,” Houston said, “You never know who is going to come free. Leroy (Henley) did this week and made a great play and Jsi (Hatfield) almost got in the end zone.”

A third down ECU sack and fumble from Gabriel then put the Pirates in business on the UCF 33-yard line. ECU then engineered an offensive drive capped off by a 20-yard Holton Ahlers touchdown run that trimmed the lead to 35-22. ECU’s two-point attempt was unsuccessful.

UCF’s 53-yard touchdown pass from Gabriel to Trey Nixon proved big in putting the Knights back up by 19 though and ECU was unable to score enough points despite several Pirate defensive stops. A forced pass from Ahlers under duress in the pocket midway into the fourth quarter was picked off in the red zone to quell the Pirate threat.

ECU was able to score a late touchdown on an 8-yard Holton Ahlers to Tyler Sneed touchdown pass, but the Pirates just missed too many offensive opportunities in the second half to complete the comeback.

HOW IT HAPPENED

Dillon Gabriel’s one-yard touchdown got the Knights on the scoreboard on the first drive of the game to cap an eight play, 92 yard drive for a quick 7-0 lead.

After UCF’s second straight defensive stop, they wasted little time scoring again on a four-yard Greg McCrae touchdown run. The eight play, 79-yard drive in just 1:49 quickly put the Knights up by two touchdowns.

The Knights’ third straight defensive stop led to their third straight scoring drive when a Bentavious Thompson wide open 32-yard run up the middle on fourth down and four extended the UCF lead to 21-0.

Just under three minutes into the second quarter ECU finally got on the scoreboard on a 24-yard Jake Verity field goal after the Pirate drive stalled in the red zone.

Darrell Mack came in to throw a touchdown on his second play in the game when he found Gabriel Davis over the middle for 33-yard strike to extend the lead to 28-3.

Midway into the second quarter, Davis’ second touchdown catch on a 16-yard pass from Dillon Gabriel grew the UCF lead to 35-3.

ECU was unable to convert good field position in the red zone into a touchdown but Jake Verity did kick a field goal in a 35-6 game at halftime.

The Pirates blocked a punt early in the third quarter to give ECU the football on the one-yard line . That led to ECU’s first touchdown of the day one play later on a Demetrius Mauney touchdown plunge in a 35-13 contest.

A third down ECU sack and fumble from Gabriel at the UCF 33-yard line led to a 20-yard Holton Ahlers touchdown run that trimmed the lead to 35-22 when ECU’s two-point attempt was unsuccessful.

Trey Nixon’s 53-yard touchdown catch pushed UCF back out to twenty at 41-22 when the Knights’ two-point conversion pass attempt was incomplete.

The Pirates return home next week to take on USF in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Game time is at 3:45 p.m. on ESPNU.

BOX SCORE