PirateIllustrated - Houston Beats ECU 31-24 in OT
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Houston Beats ECU 31-24 in OT

Holton Ahlers and East Carolina took the game into overtime before falling to Houston 31-24.
Holton Ahlers and East Carolina took the game into overtime before falling to Houston 31-24. (AP Photo)

Alton McCaskall’s 25-yard touchdown run on the first play of overtime gave Houston their only score of the second half in a 31-24 win over East Carolina Saturday night in TDECU Stadium in Houston.

It proved to be the game winner when a forced fumble from ECU tight end Ryan Jones on the ensuing overtime possession was recovered by JoVanni Stewart to end the contest for the Cougars' sixth straight victory.

“I thought our kids competed all night,” said ECU head coach Mike Houston, “I felt like at halftime the score shouldn’t have been where it was at half. You gave them virtually everything the first half. The kickoff return and two turnovers deep in our end of the field to give them short fields. They only had like 130 yards of total offense in the first half.”

“We talked at halftime that we were going to get back in it as long as we keep fighting and we did,” said Houston, “It would have been a special, special win and I thought we were going to win.”

A nearly five hour rain delay pushed a scheduled mid-afternoon kickoff all the way into early Sunday morning eastern time before the game was finally completed.

ECU mounted a furious fourth quarter rally to make things interesting and erase a two touchdown deficit behind an awakened fourth quarter offense and stellar second half Pirate pressure defense that took the game into overtime at 24-24.

After an offsides call on Houston on a Pirate fourth down conversion attempt kept an ECU drive alive, Holton Ahlers found Tyler Snead on a pass to the one-yard line. Ahlers then scored on a quarterback sneak on the next snap to trim the Houston lead to a touchdown at 24-17 with just under seven minutes to play.

East Carolina followed that up with a timely fumble recovery from safety Teagan Wilk on a strip of a Christian Trahan catch on the first play of the ensuing drive. That put the Pirates in business at the Houston 16-yard line. Ahlers fumbled on the very next play, but offensive guard Fernando Frye fell on the football to keep the Pirate drive alive. Ahlers then found Audi Omotosho for a clutch touchdown in the end zone and Owen Daffer’s extra point tied the contest at 24-24 with just under six minutes left.

“I thought we did some good things offensively and that was a big drive. Then we were able to force the turnover and get the other touchdown and we had our shots to win in regulation,” Houston said, “We just couldn’t get far enough down there. We had the perfect defensive call for the offensive call that was made and we just misfit it and gave up the touchdown.”

The Cougars had a chance to win it late in regulation, but Dalton Witherspoon’s 47-yard field goal attempt was pushed wide right with just 2:21 left in regulation.

ECU’s only lead of the game came on an Ahlers forty-yard touchdown strike to Jsi Hatfield who got behind the Houston defense to cap a three play, 78-yard drive for an early 10-3 first quarter lead.

The Pirate first half lead proved to be short lived when Marcus Jones returned the impending kickoff back 98 yards for a Houston touchdown to tie the game. That was followed by a Holton Ahlers fumble on the ensuing drive that led to a Christian Trayhan touchdown catch from Clayton Tune for Houston’s second touchdown of the first quarter and suddenly ECU was down 17-10.

Tyler Snead’s fumble at the ECU negative thirty-yard line was Houston’s second takeaway of the game. The Cougars turned that their third straight touchdown on a Nathanial Dell, Jr. 14-yard catch from Tune that put Houston up 24-10.

All told, Holton Ahlers threw for 278 yards on 23 of 37 passing with two touchdowns to lead the ECU attack. Tyler Snead caught seven of those passes to lead the Pirate receiver corp against a Houston defense that with rare exception shut down the Pirate run game for most of the night.

Defensive end Jeremy Lewis had nine tackles to lead an ever improving ECU defense with a sack and a half and 2.5 tackles for a loss. He got plenty of help from Jirah Wilson who had seven tackles, two TFL’s and a sack. Ja’Quan McMillian led the ECU secondary with four tackles and some big hits while Chad Stephens and Bruce Bivens tallied six and five tackles respectively.

Clayton Tune went 19 of 29 for just 169 passing yards against a blitzing ECU defense that applied pressure on the entire contest. The Pirates yielded just 256 yards of total offense and generated a remarkable five sacks and 14 tackles for a loss. Tune did manage to throw a pair of timely touchdowns and Alton McCaskall led what proved to be a sparse Cougar rushing attack with just 60 yards. But the one big one for 25 yards in overtime proved to be the game winner for Houston.

With the victory, Houston improved to 6-1 on the season and 4-0 in AAC play. ECU falls to 3-4 on the season and 1-2 in league play with South Florida coming to Greenville to take on the Pirates next Thursday night at 7:30 p.m.

BOX SCORE & FINAL STATISTICS