CINCINNATI — East Carolina’s three games in the American Athletic Conference have followed a similar pattern this season. The losses to Central Florida, South Florida and a 31-19 setback at Cincinnati on Saturday night have been characterized by a deficit and a comeback before the final defeat.
Against the Bearcats, who gave veteran Pirate nemesis Gunner Kiel his first start of the season, ECU was undone by a lost fumble at the Bearcat 14-yard line and an inability to convert on a fourth-and-one, a pair of ill-fated fourth quarter possessions with Cincinnati leading 24-19.
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Cincinnati 31, ECU 19 | Oct. 22, 2016
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The Pirates trailed 14-3 at the half and were down 24-13 going into the final period.
“We didn’t give our guys a good enough chance from a coaching standpoint in the first half to win the game,” said first-year ECU coach Scottie Montgomery. “In the second half, we didn’t make enough plays.”
The Pirates started a series at their own 8-yard line after a fair catch by Quay Johnson. ECU trailed 24-19 with just over 10 minutes remaining. The drive that culminated with a lost fumble by Anthony Scott was boosted by unanticipated help from above. The replay booth signaled to the officials on the field that it was reviewing the end of a 7-yard run by quarterback Philip Nelson.
Targeting by Antonio Kinard was ruled and he was ejected from the game. The penalty moved the Pirates out to their 30. With ECU at its 40, a defensive holding call negated an interception and put the Pirates at midfield.
James Summers had rushes of 8 and 15 yards to put ECU on the UC 27. Anthony Scott ran for 11 yards before he was jarred by a fumble-causing hit from Kevin Mouhon. The Bearcats’ Eric Wilson recovered at the Cincinnati 14 with 6:56 to go.
“Really, really frustrating for our team to have that ball go on the ground because we know if we score right there our defense has a lot of momentum,” Montgomery said.
On an incompletion on third down from the UC 19, Bearcats coach Tommy Tuberville thought the crew missed a pass interference call. Tuberville got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and a subsequent false start moved Cincinnati back to its 5-yard line.
ECU got the ball at midfield with 5:37 to go after a Bearcats punt. On fourth-and-1, James Summers was stopped for no gain. Kiel connected with Kahlil Lewis for a 32-yard touchdown that extended the margin to 31-19 with 2:44 to go.
“Very disappointed that our program couldn’t get a half a yard,” Montgomery said.
The Pirates finished with more first downs, 28-25, and were close in total yardage, 504-513, but some areas continued to be problems.
ECU did not get to Kiel, who was 23 for 40 for 348 yards with four touchdowns. The Pirates have just one sack for the season.
“We didn’t have any pass rush,” Montgomery said. “We left our guys in coverage way too long.”
Turnovers were not favorable as ECU had three while the Bearcats had none.
The Pirates fell to 2-5 with their fifth straight loss and are 0-3 in the AAC. ECU had a slight edge in possession time, 30:19-29:41, over Cincinnati (4-3, 1-3).
ECU trailed 24-19 after a 37-yard scoring pass from Nelson to Jimmy Williams with 12:54 to go in the game. The Pirates went for a 2-point conversion to close within a field goal but a shovel pass from Nelson to Summers was stopped short.
The Pirates came out of halftime with a defensive three and out with the help of a hold on the hosts. ECU trimmed Cincinnati’s lead to 14-10 on a 28-yard touchdown pass Nelson to Williams. The three-play drive started with a 39-yard completion to Williams.
Williams had seven catches for 129 yards. Zay Jones caught 11 passes for 69 yards. Summers ran 21 times for 95 yards.
Defensive leaders included Corey Seargent, Terrell Richardson, Travon Simmons and Yiannis Bowden, who were in on eight tackles each. Cam White contributed on seven stops.
The teams exchanged field goals as Josh Pasley hit a 42-yarder for Cincinnati and Davis Plowman made a 37-yarder to get the Pirates within 17-13 with 4:39 left in the third quarter.
Mike Boone’s kickoff return went the distance after Plowman’s second field goal but the score was nullified by a holding call that put UC at its own 8-yard line.
After an interception by Seargent was nullified by a pass interference call away from the ball, the Bearcats had a 9-yard touchdown pass from Kiel to Lewis following a 47-yarder from Kiel to Lewis. The change of fortunes put the Bearcats ahead 24-13 with 50 seconds left in the third quarter.
“The call on the interception was big because of how it affected momentum,” Montgomery said.
For the second straight game, ECU opened the scoring with a field goal from Plowman. The Pirates drove from their 25 to the Cincinnati 8-yard line on the opening possession of the game for a 3-0 lead on a 26-yarder by Plowman with 10:09 left in the first quarter.
The scant lead lasted until Kiel connected with D.J. Dowdy on a 14-yard touchdown pass with 37 seconds left in the first quarter for a 7-3 Bearcats lead.
Kiel, a Notre Dame transfer who plagued ECU in UC wins the previous two years, made his first start of the season.
Lewis hauled in an 18-yard scoring pass from Kiel with 28 seconds left in the half as Cincinnati extended its advantage to 14-3.
Lewis had 11 catches for 150 yards with three TDs. Mike Boone ran for 88 yards and Tion Green carried for 71 yards for UC, which netted just two yards on the ground in its previous contest, a 20-9 loss at Connecticut.
The Pirates face the Huskies (3-5, 1-4) for homecoming on Saturday at noon.
“They’re resilient,” Montgomery said of his players. “They play hard. They know their job. … We’re going to keep working. That’s one thing you can count on.”
Cincinnati won its homecoming game against ECU, its sixth straight win in the series, which the Pirates lead, 12-8.
“We’re going to have to lean on our fans,” Montgomery said. “There’s no question about it. Our guys have got to come out and play football.”