PirateIllustrated - SMU Pounds East Carolina 55-31
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SMU Pounds East Carolina 55-31

East Carolina quarterback Gardner Minshew picks up positive yardage in Saturday's loss to SMU.
East Carolina quarterback Gardner Minshew picks up positive yardage in Saturday's loss to SMU. (PirateIllustrated.com photo)

GREENVILLE - Ben Hicks passed for 235 yards and threw three touchdowns, two to Courtland Sutton and SMU routed East Carolina 55-31 Saturday afternoon in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

It was Military Appreciation Day in Greenville and the Mustangs showed little appreciation for ECU, bombarding the Pirates in about every way imaginable from rushing for 240 yards on the ground to getting lit up by Sutton most of the day who caught 12 passes for 166 yards all told.

With the win, SMU bettered their season to 5-5 and 3-3 in AAC play, just one win away from bowl eligibility.

After an initial 7-3 ECU lead on a 7-yard quarterback keeper for a touchdown, it proved to be another long day at the office for ECU senior quarterback Philip Nelson. Nelson managed just 144 yards through the air with no touchdowns. Nelson was picked off late in the second quarter by Horace Richardson in the flat who took it 70 yards to the house and he over threw a wide open Zay Jones in the end zone which only compounded matters for the Pirates.

Two Sutton touchdown grabs along with a 39-yard Ke’mon Freeman touchdown run and a 10-yard James Proche touchdown catch keyed a 38 point first half Mustang offensive outburst. Despite ECU’s best efforts including a 14-yard James Summers touchdown run and an 8-yard Zay Jones touchdown reception, the Pirates quickly found themselves down 38-24 at halftime.

Things didn’t get much better when Nelson was lifted for Gardner Minshew when Richardson jumped the pass route in the flat again and took his second interception of the day 80-yards for another SMU touchdown just four and a half minutes into the third quarter.

A Josh Williams 32-yard field goal and a 10-yard Kevin Anderson touchdown scamper found SMU up 55-24 before ECU(3-7/1-5 AAC) ever answered with a 2-yard Devin Anderson touchdown early in the fourth quarter to complete the scoring on the day.

“Huge, from the get-go. We got in too big of a hole and then defensively we couldn’t get a stop. If you take a look at this game there are two categories that we lost the game in, turnovers and third down conversions,” ECU head coach Scottie Montgomery said, "We couldn’t get them off the field, they got us off the field and we turned the ball over. We moved the ball as well as any other game we have been in. It was just heartbreaking to see us turn the ball over like that.”

One bright spot for ECU was running back James Summers who ran for 89 yards on just twelve carries with one touchdown, but the Pirate offense had four fumbles and surrendered two of them to SMU. Summers talked after the game about how the season could have gone in a better direction after an early 2-0 start.

“I don’t think anybody who started the season like we did thought we’d be where we are at this point, but it is what it is and we’ve got to live with it,” Summers said, “We’re the ones who went out there and played those games so we’ve just got to go out there on Sunday and we’ve got to work. We had too many turnovers. We really went out and beat ourselves today.”

Minshew came on to throw for 170 yards and one touchdown with one interception and appears to be the immediate future at quarterback for the Pirates, but that isn’t much consolation for the Brandon, Mississippi sophomore at the moment.

“A few drives there we bounced back pretty well, but just as a whole we didn’t do well enough,” Minshew said, “We gave them 14 points and anytime you do that, you don’t help your defense out at all and that really hurt. There were a few things that we missed, we put the ball in danger and those few critical mistakes will kill you as a team.”

As Zay Jones continues his quest toward former ECU wide receiver Justin Hardy’s all-time NCAA receptions mark of 387, he finds himself just nine catches away from breaking the record. Jones had 12 catches for 173 yards and a touchdown in ECU's seventh loss of the season.

“A loss is a loss whether it’s on the road or not. It’s difficult. I wish we had done some more things in the first half to give ourselves a better chance in the second half. We just didn’t execute and we had some costly turnovers,” Jones told PirateIllustrated.com, “Off target throws and tipped passes. They did a good job of capitalizing on it, so when you turn the ball over and they score off your turnovers, that leaves you in a hole."

The Pirates host Navy next week in the final home game of the season.