Jeff Blake never did it.
Marcus Crandell and David Garrard never did it.
Shane Carden also never did it.
The ‘it’ was to throw for over 500 yards in a game at East Carolina.
Pirate sophomore Holton Ahlers did ‘it’ Saturday night in ECU’s 46-43 loss to No. 17 Cincinnati.
Ahlers would have given back all of those yards to get a win against the nationally-ranked Bearcats. He would also dearly love to have his one mistake back. That error, an Ahmad Gardner interception and return for a touchdown, gave Cincinnati a 43-40 lead with about four minutes to play in the 4th quarter.
“That mistake is on me,” said Ahlers afterwards. “He baited me into making the throw and he made a nice play. I own it. I hate it for my team and I hate it for our fans.”
Ahlers threw for 535 yards in the loss, setting an ECU single-game mark in the process. The performance was also the third best in the history of the American Athletic Conference.
A hometown product who blazed a legendary path at nearby D.H. Conley High School, Ahlers knows what the record means.
“It means a lot,” Ahlers said. “Obviously growing up in Greenville I grew up coming to games here thinking of what I could be here. But we’re young, we lost tonight. I made a decision there at the end that cost us, a pick-six.”
Ahlers hit his former Conley teammate C.J. Johnson twelve times for 283 of those yards. Those numbers set both school and conference all-time marks.
C.J. made spectacular catch after spectacular catch in the loss.
“It means a lot, but honestly I couldn’t do it without my team,” Johnson said after the loss.
He also couldn’t have done it without so many of the other receivers finally stepping up.
Blake Proehl, who had the long touchdown catch in the Old Dominion game, had eight catches for 105 yards. Jsi Hatfield caught six balls for 96 yards and a touchdown.
“Our receivers really played well,” said Ahlers. “And the offensive line gave me time to find those guys. Our offense was really clicking.”
Perhaps Ahlers’ performance will silence his critics for good. With the offense struggling, message boards and social media blasted the young quarterback, saying he couldn’t throw the ball.
“He’s a tight end,” several Pirate faithful shared with me over the last couple of weeks. “He doesn’t throw a ‘catchable’ ball,” they would say.
News flash to the doubters! Ahlers is a quarterback and a damn good one when he’s not running for his life in an offense that he’s still learning. What would really help Ahlers is a running game. That part of the offense is still a work in progress. It won’t be long that the physical style of play will pay big dividends for this Pirate program.
Still, falling to a nationally-ranked team the way the Pirates did on Saturday night was a real punch in the gut.
“To go out there and play that way, you just hate not to get the win,” Houston said. “We had some incredible individual performances, but the thing you focus on is what a great effort by our kids. There are no moral victories. This one hurts. You win this one you put yourself in great shape to achieve several of the goals we set out to, and so it hurts.”
Hopefully this will be the start of the offense that we’ll see moving forward.
This week won’t be any easier, as the Pirates travel to take on another nationally-ranked team in Southern Methodist. The Mustangs will come in smarting after their loss to Memphis this past weekend.
“Every week we work on let’s take a step forward; we can’t go backward,” said senior defensive tackle Alex Turner. “Coach Houston, he preaches that a lot to us, ‘Don’t take any steps backward.’ We just got down to it and prepared really hard this week. You could tell that from the game. Guys were executing at a high level and making plays. It just didn’t come together at the end.”
A tremendous effort ended in heartbreak.
Now it’s on to Dallas.
The Pirates scored 43 in a loss. SMU scored 48 points and couldn’t win.
We may be in for a Wild West shootout this Saturday in Big D!
Irish Spectre says
I like the way multiple receivers stepped up in a big way, and I like the way HA got pass protection. I also think that lost in all of it is what RB Mauney can be. He has shown flashes, very north-south, very tough to bring down, but the OL must continue to improve for him to do his thing, and if they can establish even a little bit of a running attack, then it’s truly off to the races offensively; that’ll a) open up the passing even more, and b) open up the field for Ahlers to lug it (sparingly, of course), which he’s very capable of (like a fullback, actually.)
IMHO, the OL is the no. 1 recruiting priority.
As Irish Spectre stated the O line has to be the top priority in recruiting. Unfortunately building a dominant or even solid O line is the toughest task a football team faces IMO. Finding good skill position players has never been an issue for ECU, but having an offensive line that can control games has been a big issue, and this has to be rectified. Building a solid team starts with the hogs.
Michael Smith says
Ahlers is a one sided quarterback. Only comfortable throwing on one side of the field. He looks for 2 of his buddies to throw the ball to and panics when they’re not open. He can’t run , very slow, but tries to be the running back. Thanks to Jsi, Daniel Charles, Mauney, and yes, the O line, who has always given him time to throw the ball, he hid what he did. Bonesville and Hoist the colors are SO OBVIOUSLY BIASED in their reporting, they only give props to selective players. SHAME!!!! His record breaking yardage was a fluke. I bet he mess up every other game. He sucks. Prove me wrong and I’ll be a man and apologize from the bottom of my heart. Let him play half as good and I’ll apologize. I’m sure I won’t have to.
Triad Pirate says
Holton Ahlers reminds me of Shane Carden and Dwayne Harris. He is a baller, a play-maker, so you have to figure out how to get him in the game and take advantage of his skills. That said, I think it’s an extreme disservice to claim he is a good, or great, QB. He is adequate. His career is shaping up similar to Shane’s. Maybe he will be good by next year.
It is very frustrating see and listen so many people make excuses for a sophomore quarterback who has played in so many games, but still makes rookie/freshman mistakes. He needs to be smarter in his decisionmaking, faster execution (which we saw some on Saturday). I think the game still needs to slow down some for him – take what you are given, do not force plays. Fortunately, he has great receivers, running backs, and the offensive line is maturing. All the right ingredients are there, they just need a little more experience.
Offensively, we need improved line and QB play, and better play calling. Defensively, we need to do a better job in assignments/coverage and wrapping up tackles.