TAMPA — East Carolina experienced some unwanted deja vu in its American Athletic Conference contest on Saturday at South Florida.
Just as in last week’s 47-29 home loss to Central Florida, the Pirates closed a double-digit deficit to two points in the fourth quarter.
After seeing a 24-6 lead cut to 24-22 with 6:58 to go, the Bulls responded with a 62-yard touchdown pass from Quinton Flowers to Rodney Adams..
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USF 38, ECU 22 | Oct. 8, 2016
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South Florida (5-1, 2-0 AAC) also scored on a 9-yard run by Marlon Mack with 3:04 to go and were seeking to score again as time expired. A holding call negated a touchdown pass in the closing seconds and the hosts had to be content with a 38-22 win.
“Show me in the rule book where it says you have to take a knee,” said Bulls coach Willie Taggart.
The Pirates (2-4, 0-2) had a chance to tie before USF pulled away.
A two-point conversion attempt with 6:58 remaining was unsuccessful as Gardner Minshew’s pass to Anthony Scott was caught out of bounds beside the end zone.
A 3-yard run by James Summers had pulled ECU within 24-22 at the conclusion of a 69-yard drive.
The score by Summers made the Pirates 3-for-3 in the red zone, a performance area that has been problematic in a four-game losing streak.
ECU coach Scottie Montgomery said the Bulls’ speed was a decisive factor.
“Our guys were everywhere they were supposed to be,” said the Pirates coach of the lengthy scoring play to Adams. ” . . . We had two people there to make the play. Some quick moves and they went and scored on us. Losing Colby [Gore] early in the game hurt us in coverage there at the end. That was a huge play.”
Gore was ejected on a targeting call in the first quarter. Corey Seargent, another of ECU’s better pass defenders, did not travel following a quad injury against UCF.
ECU quarterback Phil Nelson and offensive lineman Justin Sandifer went out of the USF game on the same play, an 18-yard completion to Zay Jones on a third-and-11 from the Pirates 24-yard line. Nelson looked to be shaken up and a little wobbly. Sandifer appeared to have a leg injury.
Minshew came in and hit Deondre Farrior for a 46-yard gain to the USF 1-yard line. Minshew connected with Jones for a touchdown on the next play as the Pirates cut the lead to 24-13 with 5:27 to go in the third quarter.
Jones had 18 catches for 145 yards with one TD.
Davis Plowman hit a 31-yard field goal with 11:49 left to play to cut the USF lead to 24-16.
A43-yard field goal attempt by Plowman with 1:54 left in the half that would have drawn ECU within 10-9 hit the right upright and was no good. The Bulls seized the opportunity to take a 17-6 lead as Flowers completed a 41-yard pass to Mitch Wilcox to set up an 11-yard toss from Flowers to D’Ernest Johnson for a score with 34 seconds left in the half.
The Pirates came out looking to establish the run after winning the pregame coin flip and electing to take the opening kickoff.
ECU ran the ball eight straight times, moving from its 16-yard line to the USF 35 with James Summers carrying six times for 40 yards. The possession led to a 40-yard field goal by Plowman for a 3-0 Pirates lead with 9:31 left in the first quarter.
“Our guys battled,” Montgomery said. “We ran the ball effectively.”
Summers finished with 18 rushes for 114 yards. ECU netted 168 yards on the ground. The Pirates totaled 308 yards through the air. Minshew was 21 for 33 for 220 yards with one score and one interception on a tipped pass.
USF held a 556-476 lead in total yardage.
The Bulls took a 7-3 lead on their second possession as Flowers directed an 11-play drive that covered 45 yards with the touchdown coming on a 6-yard pass from Flowers to Johnson with 51 seconds left in the first quarter.
USF converted a fourth-and-5 with a 5-yard pass from Flowers to Johnson, appearing to get a favorable spot. Gore was subsequently called for targeting. The penalty negated a ricochet interception for ECU and gave the Bulls a first-and-goal.
USF settled for a 26-yard field goal by Emilio Nadelman on its first possession of the second quarter to lead 10-3 with 9:26 left in the first half.
Plowman hit a 49-yarder, a career longest, to cut the Bulls’ lead to 10-6 with 5:33 remaining in the half.
USF drove 63 yards for a 24-6 lead with 7:44 left in the third quarter. Flowers had passes of 11 yards to Wilcox and 17 yards to Adams before Marlon Mack scored from a yard out.
The areas that needed repair coming in were special teams punt and kickoff coverage, red zone efficiency and turnover margin.
The Pirates did not get hit with a big return for the first time since a 20-15 loss at South Carolina on Sept. 17. Red zone efficiency improved and turnovers were even, 1-1.
Logistics for the team’s return trip to Greenville included flying to Richmond and busing the rest of the way. Getting back safely as soon as possible to begin preparations for a Thursday night home game with Navy was a priority.
Portions of I-40 and I-95 in North Carolina were reportedly closed Saturday due to heavy rainfall.