East Carolina drove right down the field to open Saturday’s game with North Carolina State.
The Pirates went 75 yards in 12 plays before disaster struck. Quarterback Holton Ahlers was 6-6 for 47 yards on that first drive. He called his own number on first down and powered toward the goal line. He was hit at about the three and fumbled.
That’s as close as ECU came to pay dirt all afternoon.
No one felt worse than Ahlers after the game.
“I fumbled it and that’s on me, but we are a better team than that and we had a great first drive and we were moving the ball,” said Ahlers. “I just lost it. The helmet hit the ball.”
That one play certainly didn’t lose the game for ECU. It did shake the team’s fragile confidence.
This is a team coming off three straight 3-9 seasons. When something bad happens it is magnified for a program that has struggled so badly over the last several years.
State parlayed the turnover into a 6-play, 80-yard drive over 1:50 to take a 7-0 lead.
The Wolfpack never looked back from there. State led 17-3 at the half and went on for the 34-6 opening day victory.
Going into the matchup it looked like the Wolfpack had the big edge over the Pirates on the interior lines.
The Pack ran for 191 yards on 31 attempts. ECU had 29 rushing attempts but managed just 41 yards.
Darius Pinnix ran for 23 yards on 11 carries while Ahlers had 10 rushes for 11 yards.
Those numbers won’t win many football games and they certainly weren’t good enough to beat the Pack on opening day.
“We just weren’t very positive on first down, and that was frustrating,” said first year Pirate coach Mike Houston. “It wasn’t only one thing, but it was being able to sustain blocks and get on blocks. It was one mistake here or one mistake there. We have to give our backs room to move.”
A season certainly isn’t made in one single game. ECU saw plenty of positives in the loss.
The Pirates certainly didn’t quit. There was plenty to build on. This Mike Houston project is really just getting started.
“I was pleased with the fact that our guys fought all the way through because that’s not an easy situation to be in there in the second half,” Houston said. “That’s my biggest fear right now is some of the things we saw last year. That stuff has to be out of the program.”
Houston couldn’t hide his excitement to get back to Greenville, to get back to work, and to play at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium this coming Saturday.
The Pirates will be big favorites against Gardner-Webb this week.
Here’s hoping everyone stays safe through Hurricane Dorian and we’ll see you at ‘The Fick’ on Saturday.