GREENVILLE — East Carolina made first-year coach Mike Houston happy on Saturday night with a 19-7 win over William & Mary at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
There were 38,094 on hand as Jake Verity kicked four field goals and the Pirate defense limited the Tribe to its lowest point total of the season with three stops on fourth down.
Houston had the demeanor of a man who had peered into the future and saw something to his liking as he addressed media after ECU evened its record at 2-2.
It was the largest home crowd since 39,298 saw a 41-19 win over North Carolina on Sept. 8, 2018, a span of six games.
“What a great night in our stadium,” Houston said. “We’re going to look at the film and we’ve got four million mistakes that we’ve got to get corrected, but the way the kids competed in the second half, the way they fought to overcome some adversity, the way we played defense, the way we ran the football in the fourth quarter — that’s what you’ve got to do to win ball games.”
The Pirates won the toss and elected to receive, standard operating procedure when Ruffin McNeill was coaching ECU from 2010 to 2015.
Houston said offensive coordinator Donnie Kirkpatrick, who was on McNeill’s staff, had never uttered the words, “Let’s defer.”
The move paid off with a 9-play, 75-yard drive that culminated with a 20-yard touchdown pass from Holton Ahlers to tight end Anthony Watley with 11:22 left in the first quarter.
The offense, which outgained the visitors, 480-260, was good enough after that to get Verity within range for field goals of 31, 33, 22 and 45 yards.
Tyler Crist scored on a 20-yard run for the Tribe (2-2) with 9:36 left in the half to tie the score at 7.
Verity’s 31 yarder with 6:10 left in the half put ECU ahead to stay.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity to help the team out when I’m called on,” Verity said.
Verity has won games for the Pirates before. His 38-yarder with 46 seconds left lifted ECU to a 37-35 home win over Old Dominion on Sept. 29, 2018. The Pirates visit the Monarchs on Saturday for a 6 p.m. kickoff.
Tribe changes quarterbacks
William & Mary started freshman Hollis Mathis at quarterback but brought in senior Kilton Anderson in the first half. The duo had split time coming into the game.
“We made some adjustments defensively,” Houston said of the change in offensive leadership by the Tribe. “We had prepared for both.”
Mathis did not play in the second half.
Anderson finished 10 for 22 for 94 yards with one interception.
Junior free safety Davondre “Tank” Robinson had the pick for the Pirates late in the first half. It was the only turnover of the game. Robinson was immobilized and taken from the field as a precautionary measure late in a 42-10 loss at Navy last week.
The Tribe went 0-for-3 on fourth-down conversion attempts.
“It’s real exciting,” said linebacker Bruce Bivens, who was credited with a team-high nine tackles. “That’s what we prepare for every day in practice. .. We get to give the offense back the ball to go down and score again.”
Chance Purvis made a jarring stop for a 2-yard loss on William & Mary’s Owen Wright on a 4th-and-1 at the Tribe’s 41 with just over eight minutes left.
“That was a tackle with authority,” Houston said.
Happy ending to tough week
Houston has been through some difficult days recently, both personally and professionally.
Last week’s American Athletic Conference opener at Navy was a low from a coaching standpoint.
“This past week has been rough,” he said. “It’s been a long time since I had a weekend like last weekend. Our coaches worked very, very hard this week. To have a night like tonight is certainly rewarding.
“At least for a night, you can take a big, deep breath. Mom was here tonight with my wife and kids. It’s the first game she’s seen since 2012. We got a win that night, too. So we may need to get her back a little more often.
“To have her here for the game and to see us play that way and have that kind of environment — you always want family around for that kind of stuff. That was special to me also.”
The Pirates will have a family night meal, a winners dinner, tonight.
“Steak and shrimp,” Houston said. “And peanut butter pie.”
From the depths of the depth chart
Speaking of rare appearances, Trace Christian and freshman Tay Williams got their first carries of the season and career, respectively.
Christian ran for a game-high 91 yards on 14 rushes, all in the second half. Williams totaled 71 yards on five totes.
“Those guys weren’t in the dog house in the spring,” Houston said. “They were buried underneath it.”
But the duo has worked their way up from the scout team and stepped up with Darius Pinnix still working his way back from a shoulder injury.
Christian, who ran for 102 yards last year in a 55-21 home win against Connecticut, said he was dealing with an injury in the spring.
“I just kept my head down and did what I needed to do for the team,” Christian said.
Run game effective
Ahlers completed 20 of 34 passes for 210 yards. He ran 14 times for 60 yards.
The Pirates totaled 270 yards rushing, including 107 in the fourth quarter.
“That’s more the style of team that I want to be,” Houston said. “Maybe some people want to see us throw it every down, but I’ll just tell you, you ain’t gonna make it to the promised land throwing it 60 times a game. I don’t believe in that.
“A good balance and a good mix is what winning programs need to have.”
Series with William & Mary
ECU extended its lead to 13-4-1 in its series with William & Mary. The teams played 16 of those games between 1966 and 1983.
The Tribe won, 21-17 in Norfolk in 1977 when William & Mary was awarded a touchdown after former Pirates coach Jim Johnson came off the sideline to make a tackle.