CINCINNATI — Within the 56-6 trouncing that East Carolina absorbed at Cincinnati on Friday, the Pirates had a shining moment that prevented a shutout and provided some hope for down the road.
True freshman quarterback Holton Ahlers uncorked a deep ball that sophomore Mydreon Vines hauled in for a 71-yard touchdown, the longest scoring play of the day.
Ahlers played at D.H. Conley and Vines performed at rival J.H. Rose in Pitt County.
“A big part of me coming here is coming here with guys from around the area and from North Carolina to bring ECU football back,” Ahlers said. “He’s worked his tail off. You saw it on that play. He’s one of the fastest guys on the team.”
ECU took advantage of Vines’ wheels.
“It was just a straight go pattern,” Vines said.
Vines, who plays some on special teams, didn’t anticipate leaving Nippert Stadium with his first college TD.
“Very excited,” Vines said. “Really, though, I didn’t expect to get in the game that much. I just came in, did what my coaches told me to do. I executed and I got a touchdown.”
Vines said he and Ahlers weren’t bitter enemies in high school.
“We were rivals in high school, but outside of like playing each other, I would call him up and he would like throw me the ball, like some days we got off,” Vines said
The Bearcats foiled the extra point attempt by wrapping up holder John Young with the ball before the kick attempt. That left the Pirates in a 35-6 hole with 8:13 left in the first half.
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Cincinnati quickly set the tone and delivered some payback for a 48-20 loss in Greenville last year. The Bearcats didn’t dwell on a 38-13 loss at Central Florida last week.
The Pirates won the toss, deferred and kicked off. Cincinnati went 75 yards in eight plays to take a 7-0 lead on a 10-yard pass from Desmond Ridder to Jayshon Jackson with 10:46 left in the first quarter.
Ridder completed five of six on the initial series for 76 yards. Ridder completed 20 of 29 for 335 yards and four touchdowns before turning the offense over to Hayden Moore, who was five for 11 for 59 yards and one score.
ECU’s first series ended with a sack of Ahlers on third down and a punt in a 4th-and-20 situation from the Pirates’ 15-yard line.
Ahlers, who was a mainstay in last week’s win at home against Connecticut, was beset by turnovers before leaving the game in the third quarter with an apparent injury. He was picked off once and had the ball knocked from his grasp for a recovery by the hosts. Another Ahlers bobble on a failed 4th-and-1 in the second quarter was ruled a team fumble.
Ahlers completed eight of 22 for 184 yards. He ran nine times for a net of 21 yards.
Coach Scottie Montgomery said Ahlers didn’t take snaps on Tuesday, but plans to give him a full quota of reps in preparation for a noon kickoff at N.C. State on Dec. 1.
The Wolfpack represent an opportunity for atonement from ECU’s ineffectiveness in its American Athletic Conference finale.
“We can’t come out here and play like that and expect to win a football game,” Ahlers said. “That was an embarrassment. Every player in that locker room, including me, should be embarrassed. We represent ECU on our chests and that’s not ECU football. We have to go back to work. We’re going to figure it out though. We’re not going to back down to anything.
” .. We’ve got the players to make the plays and today we just didn’t.”
Generally, the Bearcats threw early and ran late with leading rusher Michael Warren II missing the game. Cincinnati had a 641-303 advantage in total offense and led 25-12 in first downs. The Bearcats had a 35:49 to 24:10 lead in possession time. Cincy was four for four in the red zone. ECU did not have a snap in the red zone. The Pirates had five turnovers to one for the Bearcats.
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The contest was in sharp contrast to the Pirates’ 55-21 rout of UConn last week on ECU’s own Senior Night. The Bearcats recognized their upperclassmen before improving to 10-2 overall and 6-2 in the league.
ECU (3-8, 1-7 AAC) will need another 180-degree Jekyll and Hyde turn for the second straight week to avoid a whipping at State.
“This game is already in the back of our mind,” Vines said. “We’re focused on N.C. State now.”
Ahlers dispelled any doubt about his physical status when asked if he would play next week.
“Absolutely,” he said.