GREENVILLE — It may have been East Carolina’s worst loss this season, a matchup at home against Temple that was perceived to be a winnable game for the Pirates.
The Owls climbed to 3-3 overall and 1-2 in the American Athletic Conference with a relatively-easy 34-10 win. It was the first loss for ECU this season to an opponent that has not been nationally ranked.
ECU surely let an opportunity slip away. The Pirates fell to 0-4 against Temple since joining the AAC. ECU is 1-5 overall and 1-2 in the league in 2017
Goals of a bowl and a league championship for this year appear to be pretty much gone.
Only 31,326 tickets were sold, the lowest attendance for a Pirates home game since 26,990 were on hand for a 31-23 win over Alabama-Birmingham on Nov. 26, 2005. ECU students were on fall break Saturday.
“I’m not as worried about the people in the stands as I am about the people on the field,” said ECU coach Scottie Montgomery.
The second-year Pirates coach indicated there would be some changes in personnel, based on film review with discipline a major factor in evaluations.
“Any time you have more penalty yards (96) than rushing yards (34), that’s a problem,” Montgomery said.
Temple’s Aaron Boumerhi was wide left on a 52-yard field goal attempt on the first series of the game. The Pirates responded with a drive featuring true freshman Darius Pinnix at running back that stalled before Jake Verity made a 25-yard field goal with 7:52 left in the first quarter for a 3-0 ECU lead.
Verity missed from 50 yards after redshirt freshman linebacker Michael Ramseur made an interception at the ECU 2 and returned it 31 yards.
Thomas Sirk threw to Quay Johnson for 31 yards before the long field goal attempt went wide right with 1:43 left in the opening quarter.
The Owls pulled even at 3 on a 29-yard boot by Boumerhi with 14:44 left in the first half. That started a decisive 24-point second quarter for the visitors.
On a 91-yard go-ahead drive that finished with a 5-yard scoring pass from Logan Marchi to Adonis Jennings, Temple converted a 3rd-and-3 at its 30-yard line with a 37-yard pass to Keith Kirkwood. On 3rd-and-10 at the ECU 23, Marchi found Isaiah Wright for 16 yards.
An interception by Delvon Randall at midfield was returned 16 yards to the ECU 34. On 4th-and-3 at the 27, Marchi threw to Jennings for 25 yards.
Montgomery lamented the lack of pressure on the Owls quarterback and the inability of Pirate defensive backs to make plays in coverage.
Credit goes to the Owls on possession plays. ECU was 0-for-7 on third down conversions in the first 30 minutes. Temple was 6-for-9. The Pirates finished 3-for-14 while the Owls were 14-for-20.
ECU provided a glimmer of hope for a comeback by taking the second-half kickoff and driving 75 yards in 11 plays to pull within 24-10 on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Sirk to Johnson with 10:47 left in the third quarter.
The Pirates did not recover from an illegal block call on their next possession and Temple pushed its lead to 31-10 with a 32-yard scoring pass from Marchi to Wright with 2:04 left in the third.
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Temple’s 523 total yards of offense was a season high for the Owls and a season low for the ECU defense. Same with Temple’s 34 points, a high for the winners and the same total for the Pirates as a 34-14 loss to James Madison.
The ECU defense yielded 56 points at West Virginia, 64 to Virginia Tech and 61 to South Florida.
Sirk completed 20 of 38 passes for 253 yards with one score and one pick. He was sacked four times and finished with minus-14 yards rushing.
“At the start of the game, we needed to put seven points on the board instead of three,” said the graduate transfer from Duke. “We needed a touchdown to gain the momentum.”
The Owls cornered momentum in the second quarter and maintained their advantage.
Sirk kept three straight times on ECU’s initial series, gaining 8 yards to the Temple 6 before he was wrapped up for no gain and a loss of two.
“They just did a good job of pursuing the football and gang tackling,” said the ECU quarterback.
That left the Pirates trying to figure out what went wrong and how to go about regrouping for a trip to Central Florida, ranked No. 25 this week. That game is Saturday at 7 p.m. on the CBS Sports Network.
Sirk and Jimmy Williams, a team captain who had five catches for 110 yards, said the players need to hold one another accountable.
“We’re going to continue to grow in that area moving forward,” Sirk said.
A 37-10 loss at Temple closed the 2016 season for the Pirates at 3-9 overall and 1-7 in the AAC. There was no payback at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Saturday.
“Deep down, I know we could have won that game,” said ECU running back Hussein Howe, who had five catches for 24 yards.
Marchi and running back David Hood were among the Owls who were instrumental in a disappointing afternoon for the Pirates. Marchi completed 19 of 31 for 321 yards with two TDs. Hood ran 20 times for 106 yards with one score.
“We’ve got to compete more,” Howe said. “We’ve got to execute better. All positions have to execute better.”
Jimmy Williams plans to take more of a leadership role.
“The guys out there, I want to take them to the next level,” Williams said. “Guys have the talent, but I’m not sure if they have it in their head that they really have talent to go out there and do it. I want to give them that confidence every single day.”
Ramseur should have gained some confidence Saturday, sharing the team lead in tackles with safety Korrin Wiggins. Each was in on 11 stops.
“We’ve got to get some wins to cut it straight to the point,” Ramseur said. “We want the fans to come back.”