GREENVILLE — East Carolina held South Florida scoreless in the second half and got its offense going in the final 30 minutes for a 29-14 American Athletic Conference win at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in a rainy Thursday night game on ESPN.
It was the 900th contest in the history of the Pirate program and the first time in six tries that ECU has beaten the Bulls at home.
The Pirates went ahead to stay at 19-14 on a 31-yard interception return for a touchdown by Malik Fleming with 2:38 left in the third quarter.
“What a performance by the Pirates in the second half,” said ECU coach Mike Houston. “We made some mistakes in the first half. Really played well but you can’t make those critical errors.”
Tyler Snead redeemed himself after intermission. His lost fumble on a kickoff return led to USF’s second score.
Down 14-6 at the break, Snead returned the second-half kickoff 43 yards and the Pirates closed within 14-13 on a 17-yard pass from Holton Ahlers to Audie Omotosho with 10:30 left in the third quarter.
Ahlers completed 21 of 35 passes for 220 yards. He had 11 keepers for 78 yards.
Rahjai Harris ran 22 times for 100 yards as ECU amassed 471 yards of total offense. Harris scored on the first play of the second quarter on a 13-yard run for a 6-0 lead.
USF (2-6, 1-3 AAC) got second quarter TDs from Jaren Mangham on a 24-yard run and Xavier Weaver on a 13-yard pass from Katravis Marsh.
Keaton Mitchell ran 25 yards for the Pirates’ final touchdown with 10:26 left to play, completing a 10-play drive that covered 80 yards. Mitchell had 16 carries for 79 yards.
Owen Daffer kicked a 37-yard field goal with 5:23 remaining to complete the scoring
C.J. Johnson had five catches for 84 yards and helped ECU convert six of 17 third downs, The Pirates were one for 12 on third downs in a 31-24 overtime loss at Houston on Saturday/Sunday. ECU (4-4, 2-2) converted five of six fourth downs against USF.
“Coach K (offensive coordinator Donnie Kirkpatrick) was calling some good plays for us,” Ahlers said. “The run game (251 yards) was getting there. We knew they were going to pop eventually and they certainly did. The short passing game was there on film.”
Houston credited the offensive line in particular as the hosts had a 23-0 scoring advantage over the final 30 minutes.
“I think it says a lot about the growth and maturity of the roster,” Houston said. “I told the kids at the beginning of the week that our offensive line was the key to this football game. … They really dominated the point of attack. To me, that’s the difference in the ball game. … Almost 40 minutes time of possession (38:22). That’s dominance.”
Shane Dourseau and Teagan Wilk had interceptions for ECU. Aaron Ramseur had a fumble recovery. Linebacker Bruce Bivens and Wilk, a freshman safety, each made five solo tackles. Wilk had four assists with a forced fumble and credit for half a tackle for loss.
The Pirates strengthened chances for their first bowl trip since 2014 and will have some extra time to prepare for a home game with Temple on Saturday, Nov. 6, at 3 p.m. The Owls (3-4, 1-2) host Central Florida (4-3, 2-2) on Saturday at noon.
“It was a physical game and we have a very good Temple team coming in here,” Houston said. ” … We have a couple of extra days to get ready for them, which is going to be important. Got to have a huge turnout.”
A crowd announced at 32,015 had to deal with significant rain Thursday night.
“I really, really appreciate the Boneyard and the student body,” Houston said. “They made it an electric atmosphere. … When Pirate Nation comes together, it’s as good as anything I’ve ever been a part of.”