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.”