Pirate fans got a glimpse of the future in the second half of Saturday night’s 41-28 loss at Central Florida.
The first half was all too familiar to the East Carolina faithful, as the Knights bolted out to a 35-6 lead. Absolutely nothing was going right. The Pirates could have easily folded their hand and limped home with a lopsided loss.
This team is different under Mike Houston. This team made adjustments at halftime and got a spark early in the second half by blocking a punt and turning the play into points.
The Pirates would go on to outscore the Knights, 22-6, after halftime.
It was certainly a tale of two halves.
“We kind of narrowed down our focus and you had to decide how you wanted to play them,” Houston told the media in Orlando after the game. “They really put a lot of stress on you, and I thought our kids really responded well in the second half.”
The Pirate defense held UCF to just under 200 yards in that second half, after giving up double that in the first half.
ECU senior defensive end Kendall Futrell was a big part of the second half defensive surge.
“It was emotion and we wanted to finish the game hard and come out and have a great second half defensively,” said Futrell.
The former South Central High School star had two sacks and five tackles. He had a strip sack and caused problems for the Knights the entire second half.
“It was a lot better effort and a lot better mindset,” Futrell said.
The Pirate offense stayed the course in the second half. All of a sudden the offense looked like a well-oiled machine. Quarterback Holton Ahlers, who struggled in the first half, looked completely different in the second half as the ECU running game took hold.
Ahlers ended the night going 23-37 for 313 yards and a touchdown. Ahlers also ran 15 times for 47 yards.
Ahlers’ favorite target is emerging as his former D.H. Conley teammate, true freshman C.J. Johnson, had eight catches for 106 yards. It was Johnson’s second straight game of over 100 yards receiving.
That second half running game was led by true freshman Demetrius Mauney. Mauney rushed a career high 21 times for 74 yards. He scored his first career rushing TD on a one-yard run in the third quarter.
There is no moral victory in this Pirate program, but Houston had a completely different feeling after this loss compared to the blowout loss at Navy earlier this season.
“At Navy, I felt embarrassed and humiliated,” Houston explained. “Tonight, I feel energized. I feel frustrated, but I see so much progress.”
The next stop on that progress train is South Florida for Homecoming this Saturday at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
The Pirates are a slight favorite in the game, and they will certainly need a win to keep hopes of a winning season alive.