GREENVILLE — East Carolina started a 52-29 win over Tulane on Saturday well before the 3:35 p.m. kickoff at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
Coach Mike Houston challenged the team last Sunday after a lackluster 31-28 win over Charleston Southern. The Pirates built on their preparation with physical practices on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Houston said even the pregame Pirate Walk was special. The result was an ECU team that was ready to play. The Pirates put the Green Wave in a 24-0 hole and when the visitors had closed within 31-23 late in the third quarter, ECU pulled away by outscoring Tulane 21-6 in the final period.
The bottom line for a group that played the way it had practiced was a 1-0 start in the American Athletic Conference. The next objective is a 1-0 week with a game at Central Florida on Saturday at 6 p.m.
ECU had not started 1-0 in the AAC since 2017.
“I’m just proud of the way they responded,” said Houston, after the Pirates improved to 3-2 overall. “It says a lot about the character.”
Houston said the Pirates played like the team he had alluded to when he took over the program in December of 2018.
That style of play manifested itself as the Pirates built a 31-7 lead at the half.
Owen Daffer’s 23-yard field goal before the contest was five minutes old put ECU ahead to stay. Holton Ahlers ran for a 17-yard score and a 10-0 lead with 5:03 left in the first. Keaton Mitchell ran 68 yards for a 17-0 advantage. Ahlers found Tyler Snead for 53 yards on a 4th-and-2 to give the Pirates a 24-0 lead with 13:18 to go in the half.
Rahjai Harris scored on a 3-yard pass from Ahlers with 36 seconds remaining in the half.
Mitchell ran 15 times for 222 yards with two scores. Ahlers completed 21 of 32 for 288 yards and a pair of TDs.
The Green Wave drove 91 yards to cut ECU’s lead to a single score with 3:39 left in the third on a 2-point conversion carry by Michael Pratt, who started last year’s 38-21 win in Greenville as a true freshman.
Pratt completed 22 of 36 for 268 yards with one TD and three interceptions. Jireh Wilson, Warren Saba and Ja’Quan McMillian had picks for the Pirates. Teylor Jackson recovered a muffed punt for the Pirates.
ECU generated a 4-0 lead in turnover margin.
The Pirates ran for 310 yards after managing a scant 35 on the ground against the Green Wave in 2020. ECU led 612-404 in total yards.
If there was a sore spot for the Pirates it was a 3-for-14 effort on third down conversions. ECU compensated by going 4-for-5 on fourth down tries.
The Pirate offense revived in the fourth quarter beginning with a 1-yard scoring run by Harris. Back-up quarterback Mason Garcia threw a dart to Oklahoma transfer Ryan Jones for a 14-yard TD before Mitchell capped the day with a 30-yard sprint to the end zone with 1:06 to go.
“Anytime you can hand the ball off and they go score, it makes it easy for me,” Ahlers said.
Saba said the team focused on having fun. Watching the Pirates play a game they love made for an enjoyable afternoon for a crowd of 33.475 as well..
The attendance put ECU over nine million since 1963.
The Pirates have won three in a row for the first time since 2014. Tulane had won four of the last five against ECU prior to Saturday’s breakout by the Pirates.