PirateIllustrated - ECU Comes Out On The Short End of a 59-51 Track Meet at SMU
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ECU Comes Out On The Short End of a 59-51 Track Meet at SMU

Quarterback Holton Ahlers loads up for one of his personal record  six touchdowns on the day in a 59-51 loss at (25)SMU.
Quarterback Holton Ahlers loads up for one of his personal record six touchdowns on the day in a 59-51 loss at (25)SMU. (ECU Photo)

ECU found themselves in yet another fast break AAC football contest, this time with (25)SMU. The Pirates came close before eventually ending up on the short end of a 59-51 slugfest in Gerald Ford Stadium in Dallas on Saturday.

Holton Ahlers threw for 498 yards and a career high six touchdowns for ECU, three of which went to Tyler Snead who accounted for 19 catches and 240 yards, but it wasn’t enough to stop Shane Buschele who threw for five scores in his own right and 414 yards against one interception in the victory.

Xavier Jones rushed for 157 yards and three touchdowns for the Mustangs on just twenty carries to lead the SMU ground attack.

But it was an SMU fumble recover of a Pirate fumble on the last ECU kickoff return that proved to be the difference and finally allowed SMU to break serve one last time in the game when Buechele found James Proche from three yards out to make it 59-44. It was one of Proche’s two touchdown grabs including a 51-yarder in the second quarter among his 14 catches on the day for 167 yards.

Kylan Granson also proved difficult to contain, adding three touchdowns among his seven catches for 138 yards.

Ahlers has now thrown for 1,033 yards in just last two contests alone. After the game, ECU head coach Mike Houston was both encouraged and disappointed about the way the game ended down the stretch.

“Self imposed errors. Our kids are playing their butts off right now, but we can’t continue to make the same mistakes - not if we’re going to win these games,” said Houston afterwards.

“I’m proud of their effort and we made tremendous strides but we’ve got to win these games. We have to win these games,” Houston added.

ECU rolled up 644 yards of total offense to 636 for SMU who won the first down battle 33-27 and the running game battle 222 to 146. Tay Williams led the Pirate rushing attack with 61 yards on 14 carries.

In the absence of wide receiver C.J. Johnson who went out of the game early with an injury, UCLA transfer Audi Omotosho had his best game as a Pirate, making four catches for 77 yards including a touchdown late in the game that cut the lead to eight. Zech Byrd also scored on a 45-yard touchdown on a circus catch on a pass from Ahlers who also found freshman Jsi Hatfield his only reception of the game for a career high 68-yarder for six points in the first quarter.

Colby Gore registered 8 tackles while Tank Robinson and Xavier Smith had 7 tackles each to lead ECU defensively. Daniel Charles added five tackles including a career high three tackles for a loss.

The Pirates committed just one penalty the entire game and SMU had just three in another very entertaining AAC football contest.

With the victory, SMU moves to 9-1 and 5-1 in AAC play on Coach Sonny Dykes’ 50th birthday. With the loss, ECU falls to 3-7 and winless in six league contests as the ever improving Pirates head into a bye week.


Mustang quarterback Shane Buschele found Kylan Granson on a 22-yard strike to cap an opening drive touchdown against a cooperative ECU defensive secondary.

Pirate freshman cornerback Ja’Quan McMillan did his part to try to turn things around on SMU’s second drive of the game when he picked off Buschele deep in Pirate territory and returned it 22 yards to the 30-yard line where ECU set up shop offensively.

ECU rolled the dice midway into the first quarter on third-and-eight when Ahlers found freshman wideout Jsi Hatfield behind the SMU secondary on a 68-yard bomb for Hatfield’s second touchdown grab of the year. That tied the game at 7-7.

SMU then countered with a scoring drive of their own when Buschele found Granson for the second time in the endzone on a 2-yard strike on fourth down to take a 14-7 lead after one quarter of play.

An ECU defensive stop early in the second quarter led to Jake Verity’s 38-yard field goal, his nation’s leading twentieth three-pointer of the season to cut the lead to 14-10. A pair of fourth down gambles then led to a pair fo Rashee Rice catches to keep the Mustang drive going. That led to a 21-10 SMU lead when Xavier Jones scored from three yards out to give SMU a 21-10 lead.

The Mustangs took an 18-point lead when Buschele found James Proche for a 51-yard touchdown strike to make it 28-10.

UCLA transfer Audi Omotosho’s catch on third down kept an ECU drive going on his best pass reception of the season. That led to an Holton Ahlers to Tyler Snead 36-yard touchdown pass that cut the SMU lead to 28-17 with 2:04 to go in the half.

ECU marched down the field again after an ECU defensive stop with one minute before halftime. That led to 37-yard Jake Verity field goal as time expired in the first half to cut the lead to 28-20. His nation’s leading twenty-first of the season.

Demetrius Mauney’s 32-yard run led to a 45-yard Holton Ahlers to Zech Byrd touchdown grab to cut the lead to one at 28-27 just 1:12 into the second half.

Granson’s big third down catch on the ensuing drive and a subsequent end-around got SMU going on their first drive of the third quarter. That led to a 35-yard Xavier Jones touchdown run on a missed tackle from Gerard Stringer. Kevin Robledo’s PAT made it 35-27 Mustangs.

It was Holton Ahlers to Tyler Snead for an entire drive capped off by a 47-yard touchdown pass to Snead as ECU pulled back to within one at 35-34 with 8:06 in the third quarter. The Mustangs answered after an SMU offsides penalty at the one-yard line led to a Russell Roberts field goal and a 38-34 Mustang lead before Jake Verity’s 41-yard field goal cut the lead to 38-37.

But it wasn’t long before Xavier Jones burned the ECU defense for his third touchdown for a 64-yard run in a 45-37 AAC track meet.

ECU quickly answered with a 57-yard Ahlers to Snead touchdown grab to cut the SMU lead to one at 45-44. That after Ahlers kept the drive alive on a fourth down run for a first down. SMU quickly answered with a Buechele 31-yard touchdown pass to Keylan Granson for a 52-44 lead.

Buechele’s 31 yard touchdown to Keylan Granson extended the SMU lead to 52-44 against pretty good ECU defense. Then after a bobbled kickoff that was recovered by SMU, the Mustangs turned it into more points when Buechele found Proche from three yards out to make it 59-44.

Ahlers eventually found Audi Omotosho on a 22-yard touchdown strike that got the Pirates back to within eight points at 59-51 with 1:55 to play. The subsequent onside kick attempt was recovered by SMU where they ran the clock out for the victory.