BOCA RATON, FL — Holton Ahlers threw for six touchdowns and 465 yards as East Carolina evened its American Athletic Conference record at 1-1 with a 48-28 win over South Florida at Florida Atlantic on Saturday.
The game was moved from Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, where USF normally plays its home games, because of Hurricane Ian, which ravaged the west coast of Florida on Thursday. Attendance was a meager 3,708.
Ahlers’ six scoring passes matched the school record he set in a 59-51 loss at Southern Methodist in 2019. Ahlers and his former D.H. Conley teammate, C.J. Johnson, set the tone for the first half with a 60-yard TD on ECU’s game-opening possession.
Johnson finished with seven catches for 197 yards and four scores.
The Pirates (3-2) led 41-7 at halftime despite the absence of leading rusher Keaton Mitchell, who was out with a hip injury.
The Bulls (1-4, 0-1 AAC) were within 48-28 when ECU got a stop on downs at its own 1-yard line with 6:36 left to play. Defensive lineman Chad Stephens, who led the Pirates with eight tackles, was credited with the stop on fourth down. ECU kept the ball the rest of the way, driving to the Bulls 16 before time expired.
Baylor transfer Gerry Bohanon had a pair of scoring passes in the third quarter that trimmed the Pirates’ lead to 41-21.
“I was a little frustrated with the third quarter,” said ECU coach Mike Houston. “As soon as we went in at the half, I already knew what I needed to do. I told them, ‘You’ve got to focus on one play at a time. It’s nothing-nothing. We’ve got to play hard in the third quarter.’ …
“That’s the South Florida I was afraid of seeing all week. They have so many dynamic players.”
The Pirates extended the lead to 48-21 on a 9-yard “Conley Connection” — Ahlers to Johnson — with 3:40 left in the third quarter.
Ahlers had first-half TD passes of 22 yards to Isaiah Winstead, 74 yards to Johnson, 21 yards to Ryan Jones and 14 yards to Johnson.
“The offensive line gave us a lot of time,” Ahlers said. “We’ve always felt like we had really good matchups at receiver. We went out there and performed super well. Just really proud of the guys.”
Rahjai Harrris had a 5-yard rushing touchdown for a 34-7 lead.
Freshman Marlon Gunn Jr. was ECU’s leading ground gainer with 15 carries for 61 yards.
Jones had six receptions for 84 yards. Winstead’s six catches accounted for 73 yards. Shane Calhoun had five grabs for 44 yards.
Harris ran 11 times for 40 yards and hauled in three passes for 40 yards. Harris left the game in the fourth quarter after a low hit to his legs.
Georgia transfer Jaylen Jones was sidelined after making two catches for 15 yards.
The Pirates are on the road again with an AAC contest on Saturday (3:30 p.m., ESPNU) at Tulane (4-1, 1-0), which is coming off a 27-24 overtime win at Houston on Friday night.
“It will be important to have a good week of practice,” said Pirate safety Julius Wood, who forced a USF fumble.
Solid win. Yet, the defense continues to snatch moments of mediocrity from a superior performance. Classic moment when our #14 bounces off a receiver after not wrapping up. I hope he is shown (and others) the video at least once a day for the remainder of the year. Pirate secondary must be better at tackling fundamentals, as they are seldom capable of lockdown coverage.
Best offensive play-calling of the year, overall. Do what you need to do on first down to get ahead of the chains. While Coach and his crew have upgraded o-line talent, Pirates are very seldom dominant over anyone. I hope the use of a short – but vertical – passing game to set up the running game becomes the lynchpin of the offense. The Pirates CAN run the ball, just not as the basis of the offense. Also, keep Ahlers as a viable run threat – nothing reckless – but use him to keep ahead of the chains.
Hopefully, this win will be the catapult the Pirates need. Much to be happy about, yet there are still several basic points to clean up. Overall, well done (A-).
Pirates are on the way back!!! says
Good thing we have experts to keep the coaching staff in line!! Dude, let’s please remember where we were just 4 years ago folks. It’s actually fun to watch the Pirates again. I genuinely can get excited again on game day. Love coach Houston!!!! His recruiting is better than at any other time in our history IMO and I’ve been watching and keeping track of it for over 30 years. Recognize when it’s good fans and get behind ’em!!!! Enough with the critical silliness. Go Pirates!!
Never claimed to be an expert. But, I do remember how to tackle – from 50 years ago – as those fundamentals haven’t really changed. Let’s ask Coach Harrell and Coach Houston if they think being critical of poor technique is silly. I’ll bet, not. The fact that they are really good coaches, and have the Pirates playing at a higher level, proves it. I’ll bet they reinforce the fundamentals every practice. So, when I see a couple of prominent Pirate defenders lose their technical discipline in multiple games, I point it out.
The Pirates have definitely upgraded at the skill positions but what is most impressive to me about this team is the discipline and fighting spirit. That is a direct result of good coaching. We are in very good hands, imo.
You are an idiot///you must be paid