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!