GREENVILLE — East Carolina got a wake-up call in the form of a 14-0 first-quarter lead for Charleston Southern on Saturday night at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
The Pirates have been able to deal with double-digit deficits of late, having erased a 38-21 Marshall advantage over the final eight minutes last week for a 42-38 road win.
Any momentum from the stunning rally against the Thundering herd seemed to have dissipated this week, but ECU came back again to improve to 2-2 with a 31-28 nonconference win over the Buccaneers from the Football Championship Subdivision as a crowd of 39,218 saw the Pirates score 31 unanswered points.
The Buccaneers put up two touchdowns on each side of ECU’s scoring flurry.
The Pirates start American Athletic Conference play at home next Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against Tulane.
The visitors closed within the final margin on a 2-yard pass from Jack Chambers to Geoffrey Wall with 1:50 to go. Warren Saba recovered the ensuing onside kick for the Pirates, but CSU used its timeouts and got possession again at its 3-yard line after Jsi Hatfield downed a 39-yard punt by Jonn Young.
The game ended on a series of laterals by the Buccaneers with Ja’Quan McMillian making the final tackle for the Pirates at the CSU 47.
McMillian had a 23-yard interception return for a touchdown to give the Pirates a 31-14 lead with 11:09 left in the third quarter.
“That ended up being an exciting one,” said ECU coach Mike Houston. “We certainly don’t want to start the game like we did the first quarter.”
A 38-yard TD pass from Chambers to Kale Anderson with 6:18 left in the opening period put the Pirates in a 14-0 hole.
“I’m proud of the guys the way they battled back in the second quarter,” Houston said. “I’m a little frustrated with some things there in the second half. A veteran coach once told me, ‘Don’t ever forget to celebrate a win.’ So glad to get a win. Hats off to Charleston Southern on playing a great ball game.”
The Bucs won a lot of categories on the stat sheet. Chambers, who went to football camp at The Citadel in 2015 when Houston was coaching the Bulldogs, completed 38 of 61 for 402 yards with two TDs. CSU ran 100 offensive plays for 536 yards while ECU had 59 snaps for 388 yards.
CSU had 35 first downs to 14 for ECU. The Pirates were 2-for-12 on third down conversions.
The Bucs were coming off a 41-14 loss to Monmouth.
“(Chambers) looked like a completely different player tonight,” Houston said. “He looked like a guy who could make a lot of things happen with his arms and his legs. … My main concern is us. We’ve got some things we’ve obviously got to get corrected.
“The biggest thing is they need to listen to me and not everybody else. … Hopefully, it was a great learning lesson for us. It’s always easier to learn when you get a win.”
Momentum shifted when Keaton Mitchell darted through a seam on the left side and went 74 yards for a touchdown with 13:10 left in the half to cut Charleston Southern’s lead to 14-7.
“It was clear as daylight,” Mitchell said of his running lane.
Owen Daffer’s 33-yard field goal pulled the Pirates within 14-10 with 7:38 remaining in the half. Backup quarterback Mason Garcia scored from three yards out on a gadget play to put ECU ahead to stay with five minutes left in the half. C.J. Johnson hauled in a 60-yard scoring pass from Holton Ahlers to give the Pirates a 24-14 advantage at the half.
Ahlers completed 17 of 26 passes for 238 yards with one TD and two interceptions.
Mitchell finished with 125 yards on 13 carries.
Johnson had three catches for 95 yards and Tyler Snead made four receptions for 60 yards.
McMillian led the Pirates defensively with seven solo tackles and involvement on 10 stops.
“It’s definitely a great feeling,” McMillian said. “Two wins in a row going into conference play. Hopefully, the momentum goes over to next week.”