HOUSTON — East Carolina went from a dominant fourth quarter to an ill-fated overtime in a 31-24 American Athletic Conference loss at Houston on Saturday night.
The Cougars (6-1, 4-0 AAC) used ECU turnovers for their sixth straight win, including a game-ending lost fumble by the Pirates in the extra period.
ECU overcame a 24-10 deficit in the final frame of regulation play with a pair of touchdowns. A 13-yard scoring pass from Holton Ahlers to Audie Omotosho tied the score at 24 on Owen Daffer’s conversion kick with 5:43 to go.
Teagan Wilk forced a Houston fumble and Suirad Ware recovered at the Cougar 16-yard line to set up the tying TD.
The Pirates pulled within 24-17 on a 1-yard sneak by Ahlers with 6:59 left. The score was set up on a leaping grab by Tyler Snead for a 20-yard gain to the Houston 1.
ECU had two more possessions in regulation after drawing even at 24 but could not get within field-goal range.
The Pirates won the overtime coin toss and elected to go on defense. Alton McCaskill scored on a 25-yard run on the first snap.
ECU tight end Ryan Jones fumbled after taking an inside toss from Ahlers on the Pirates’ second play in overtime. JoVanni Stewart recovered for the hosts.
“The kids competed all night,” said ECU coach Mike Houston.
The Pirates slipped to 3-4 overall and 1-2 in the AAC going into a home game against South Florida (2-5, 1-2) on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. (ESPN).
“I’ve got to get the kids rested,” Houston said. “That’s my biggest concern.”
Lightning made for a later arrival in Greenville on the return trip than anticipated. .
After a weather delay of five hours and 20 minutes from the original 4 p.m. kickoff time, the Pirates moved 60 yards in nine plays for a 33-yard field goal by Daffer for a 3-0 lead with 11:39 left in the first quarter.
Houston answered with a 21-yard boot by Dalton Witherspoon for a tie at 3.
Ahlers hit Jsi Hatfield on a post pattern for a 40-yard touchdown and a 10-3 ECU lead with 5:46 left in the first. The advantage lasted 12 seconds as Marcus Jones returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a tie at 10.
Houston recovered an Ahlers fumble after he was stripped in the pocket. The Cougars moved 32 yards for a 17-10 lead after a pass interference call on the Pirates nullified an interception.
Jayce Rogers of Houston returned a fumble by Snead for 23 yards to the ECU 13 to set up a 14-yard scoring pass from Clayton Tune to Nathaniel Dell for a 24-10 lead for the Cougars with 3:12 left in the first half.
The hosts didn’t score again until overtime.
“We gave them everything in the first half,” Houston said. “Those two turnovers and the kickoff return. We gave them short fields.
“We talked at halftime. We were going to get back in it as long as we kept fighting and we did. It would have been a special, special win. I thought we were going to win it.”
The Pirates had a 360-256 lead in total yards but struggled to maintain drives. ECU was one of 12 on third down conversions and went 0-for-3 on fourth down.
Ahlers completed 23 of 37 for 283 yards with two TDs and no interceptions. The Pirates managed 82 yards rushing while limiting Houston to 87 yards on the ground. ECU had three turnovers to one for the Cougars.
“We had our shots to win in regulation and just couldn’t get far enough down there,” Houston said. “We had the perfect defensive call in overtime for the offensive call that was made and we just mis-fit it and gave up the touchdown.”
Kudos to everyone for coming out after a prolonged delay and competing from start to finish. That is a statement in itself.
1) Overtime didn’t have to happen, but it did.
I don’t think the play-calling was all that great. If you couldn’t produce a decently consistent running game for 60 minutes, what epiphany gave the OC and Coach reason to believe the o-line would do it in OT? Shouldn’t you take your shot with what works BEST at the moment?
Coach said the defensive call was perfect. Given the overall perfor-mance of the defense, I believe him. So I’m thinking the edge rusher from the secondary who blitzed into empty space wasn’t part of the script. It happens, and on a 25 yard field, seldom ends well.
Unfortunately, the O couldn’t bail out the defense on this one.
2) Offensive problems continue holding the team back.
You can’t ask our defense to carry this team – every game – while you sleepwalk through half of the game. Penalties, really stupid penalties, questionable play-calling, and poor decisions make for a toxic brew known as inconsistency.
Wanting to be an offense that is known to line up and play smash-mouth football on command is an excellent goal, but one that must be earned each time you play. This requires discipline and toughness to keep getting the 3-4 yard gains which are the benchmark (particularly when playing tough defenses, like UH). When you commit dumb errors and penalties you seldom have the luxury of playing short-yardage offense. Those exciting, back-breaking “gash” plays come when the defense knows you can line up, execute, and punch them in the mouth at ANY time to get a first down, forcing the defense to adjust to YOUR game. At present, we can’t do that. Also, this directly and negatively affects the passing attack.
So what do you do overcome this problem?
I believe part of the problem is many teams no longer fear HA as a meaningful part of the running game. They know that he can still do it, but they also know HA has been conditioned to “not run”. Our coaches, instead of building upon his natural instincts, have practically destroyed the innate ability HA brought with him to ECU. He just seemed to know when to tuck it and go. He didn’t need a script. Teaching him how to refine his running (to include “when to get down”) would have been far more productive than hobbling his instincts.
The o-line can’t protect HA well enough to exploit a truly vertical passing game. Opponents know this and generally lock down the 5-10 yard passing game the Pirates rely upon. So move the pocket some. Let HA do play-action roll outs (with or without a protector), and make a play. This would always allow him to be a run threat for which the defense must account, and give the receivers time to get separation. Given our newfound athleticism at the TE position, I think this would provide several passing options for HA to exploit. Let’s take advantage of the skills we have now, and don’t wait for what we “want to be”, but cannot achieve. When the o-line can provide a consistent level of protection, then you can keep the quarterback between the tackles.
3) Special Teams
Pleased with the punting, not the decision to kick to one of the best returners in the nation.
Can we please get someone who can provide consistent kickoffs into the endzone? Daffer is a decent placekicker. He IS NOT a kickoff specialist. We don’t have the best kicker/kick coverage team combina-tion in college football, and it cost us.
BEST EFFORT to date! Well done, stud puppies!
OVERALL – Helluva effort, but much to do – and not much time to do it.
Irish Spectre says
101% agree w/ the comment on HA, with one additional related point, which I’ve said before in this column, and that is that the “coaching out” of him of his natural proclivity to tuck the ball and go has tended to make him overthink, and in sports, when you think, you stink. …not that HA stinks, but there have been a number of occasions this year in which he definitely seemed tentative behind the line, and I’d get the sense that a lot of it had to do w/ his talent for running being largely taken off the table.
I totally get Houston’s insistence on cultivating a traditional run game; it is simply indispensable, including to allow the pass attack the space it requires, but I think that he has overbaked it a little. All that said, the Pirates are fortunately to have him; they just need to learn to start closing these deals, being a handful of plays away from being 6 – 1.
…also agree that in college D1, you need to kick off into the ez on a regular basis, though the kid is a pretty decent FG man.
I tend toward thinking that Ahlers just lacks that clutch ability that is hard to define but you know it when you see it, or in this case don’t. He doesn’t shine in the final moments of games. He has just enough talent to be a starter, but not a winner.
You could be right… but Ahlers didn’t come to ECU pretending to be a pocket passer who occasionally scampered out from the backfield. And he performed as advertised.
So, is this a case where the coaches don’t know how to – or won’t – scheme the best scenarios to use his natural talent. He can clearly play at the D1 level.
Maybe the DC and the Coach should acknowledge the o-line isn’t quite what it needs to be to run “their” offense, and do as the Marines do – adapt and overcome.
Our D in the second half was the best defensive effort by ECU in many years. Great to see it, lets keep it up. The offensive play calling leaves a lot to be desired. We all want a strong rushing attack and most great programs have that ability, but we are not anywhere near that level yet. For this program to become a winning program again we have to do as historically ECU has always done….mold the team to the talent we have and utilize them at their strengths. As a program we have to learn how to win again after the deep deep hole left from the Montgomery fiasco.