PHILADELPHIA — Holton Ahlers hit Jaylen Johnson with a 38-yard touchdown pass with 1:11 left to lift East Carolina to a 49-46 win at Temple on Saturday and assure the Pirates of a second straight winning season for the first time since 2014.
“Jaylen was the original guy we were trying to get the ball to there,” Ahlers told the East Carolina radio network. “We had two posts (routes) on the right, trying to clear it out.
“Jaylen was running a country route to the back pylon on that side. It was a 5-step drop. I got my fifth step. I had to move up in the pocket and I had to move left, then roll left.
“You’re really not supposed to throw across your body, but he was wide open there. … I threw it up and he made a really good play. He attacked the ball and scored.”
The decisive pass culminated a possession that started at the ECU 11-yard line after a punt from midfield with the Owls facing 4th-and-1 with 3:16 to go. Temple initially lined up to go for it but went into punt formation after a timeout by the Pirates.
Facing a 3rd-and-10 at the ECU 26, Ahlers handed off to Keaton Mitchell, who picked up a first down with a 22-yard run.
Mitchell had a huge game with 222 yards rushing and three TDs on 27 carries. He also was the Pirates’ top receiver in terms of yards with two catches for 78 yards, including a 73-yard catch and run that gave the Pirates a 28-17 lead in the second quarter.
Jsi Hatfield’s 97-yard kickoff return provided a 21-17 ECU lead with 7:40 left in the first half.
Ahlers threw to Isaiah Winstead for 14 yards to the Temple 38 on the last scoring drive after the first-down run by Mitchell.
Ahlers completed 25 of 37 for 314 yards with three touchdowns and no picks. Winstead had seven catches for 63 yards and a score. C.J. Johnson had six catches for 60 yards.
The upset bid was led by Owls freshman quarterback E.J. Warner, son of former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner. The younger Warner completed 45 of 63 for 527 yards and five TDs with one interception. Malik Fleming’s pick at the Owls 35 and 15-yard return led to an 8-yard scoring tote by Mitchell for a 35-24 ECU lead in the third quarter.
Warner threw incomplete on 4th-and-5 from the Temple 30 with 38 seconds left as Teagan Wilk hit intended receiver David Martin-Robinson as the ball arrived.
Wilk, a safety, had six solo stops and was in on 10 tackles for the Pirates. Safety Jireh Wilson was in on 12 stops with six solos and four tackles for losses.
Linebacker Myles Berry and safety Julius Wood were each in on 11 tackles.
Temple took its last lead at 46-42 with 6:19 remaining on a 15-yard pass from Warner to Martin-Robinson.
“Really proud of our kids,” said fourth-year Pirates coach Mike Houston. “They stuck together, even when we would make some mistakes or have some busts defensively. … What a great job by our offense, winning on the last drive and our defense getting a stop. … You had the stop at midfield to set up the game-winning drive.”
Houston planned to shop for a Christmas tree with his family on Sunday and take it home to decorate. The team will watch the Temple film Monday and have a winners’ dinner afterward. Houston planned to give the team the remainder of the week off before beginning bowl preparations.
The Pirates improved to 7-5 overall and finished 4-4 in the American Athletic Conference. Temple (3-9, 1-8) went 3-4 at home.
“The goal now is to go win a bowl game,” Houston said.
Congrats to the Pirates for awakening out of the Cincy game funk, at least the offense, and bringing home the “W”. Very cool to watch the run game click so well, and KM end the regular season with a real statement! Also nice to see HA, for the most part, make good decisions.
Also nice to see us on the “successful” side of special teams for a change. Sad for #41, who apparently has lost the kickoff duties to #99. It’s got to be tough to go from returning best AAC kicker to the bench in less than 90 days. I hope he can rebound, going forward. Hatfield and the kick return team did well. When you force the opponent to change their kick strategy, you’re doing something right.
Coach Huston described the defensive effort as having a few “busts”. Sorry Coach, there ain’t enough lipstick in MACY’S to dress up that pig.
When you get toasted for 500+, you’ve had a bad day, not a few “busts”.
Bottom line, Pirates got the “W”. They could have easily folded the tent, with the defense doing so poorly. The “O”, and Special Teams, came through. Well done.
Irish Spectre says
…very happy for Holton Ahlers and Pirates nation; after last week’s debacle, a loss would’ve cast MANY doubts on the state of the program.
Hats off to the Temple q, but truly, the defensive performance was another head-scratcher. I’d thought until recently that the d had evolved into a quite decent unit, but… I will give Wilk credit for that huge, perfectly timed pass breakup on Temple’s last possession.
Coach Houston owes his Temple counterpart a steak dinner for punting the ball at midfield on a 4th and 1 late in the 4th. “This is a gift,” I said to my wife at the time, and it sure as heck proved to be; if I was a Temple fan, I’d be VERY hot at their head coach for that inexplicable call. There’s at least a 2 out of 3 chance that Temple would’ve got the yard, which would’ve come pretty darn close to putting the game away for Temple.
Despite the win, I was inclined to be fairly critical in my comments after ECU only eeking by a lowly Temple, but then I see a lowly Tulsa beat Houston last night, and UCF needing a last second heroic catch to beat an even lowlier USF!! …and I have to wonder if the TD call was right, besides.
I think that the lesson is that there’s a TON of parity in the American, and the difference it seems more often than not between a loss and a dub is razor thin.
Hopefully Tulane will spank UCF next week as a parting gift.
Hopefully ECU will draw a decent bowl opponent, preferably a team from a Power 5 conference, in which a win would be meaningful for both the program and the American.
For next year, hopefully
a) Mason Garcia is able to live up to his recruiting billing,
b) the kicking game will become stabilized,
c) the secondary will become stabilized, and
d) Keaton Mitchell will not be recruited away (with all due respect to Harris and Gunn, both of whom are better than average.)
Irish Spectre says
FWIW, the latest projection has ECU playing Syracuse at Fenway Park on Sat., Dec. 17 (at 1100, a stupid time, unfortunately.)
I would expect the early line to be tight, w/ Syracuse favored, but this would be an excellent post-season game for the Pirates, probably about as good as they can hope for.
Bob Owen says
Kudos to ecu coaches and team. Parity in the conference could be seen early on. Coach Houston knows he has got to shore-up the defensive secondary, and create better pass rushing. The talent is there.
I can’t agree about the talent “being there” for the secondary. Several times early on in the season the D had a decent pass rush, or at least getting pressure. Because of the problems in the secondary, the Pirates have dropped seven back with an eighth man in the flat, which almost eliminates any chance of disrupting the QB. I think if anyone on the roster could execute the type of lockdown coverage of a Ja’Quan MacMillan, we would have seen him. When you can’t press cover with any consistency, combined with no pressure up front, you could be in for some long days against any decent passing game. The Warner kid is a great example. He’s a freshman but comes with a high IQ for the game. He sliced and diced the Pirates almost the entire game.
I’m proud of what the Pirates have accomplished, given what we now know about the team’s strengths and weaknesses. I’m disappointed the coaches didn’t address the special teams in more detail going into the season. No one is perfect, but certain errors really shouldn’t happen at all, much less on a recurring basis.
Here’s hoping for a successful bowl game. The Seniors who have persevered certainly have earned it.