HOUSTON — East Carolina’s last hope for a win in its American Athletic Conference opener at Rice ended with Alex Flinn being flushed out of the pocket and tackled for a loss at his own 39 with 24 seconds left on a 4th-and-14 from the ECU 46.
A scan of the statistics would indicate a more favorable outcome than the actual 24-17 loss to the Owls. ECU led 391-277 in total yards and had significantly more first downs, 25-14.
But struggles in the red zone for the Pirates and a screen pass that turned into a 44-yard touchdown for the deciding score for the Owls were ultimately the factors that produced the Owls’ first AAC victory as new members of the league.
Flinn was intercepted to end the first quarter after ECU had driven from its 25 to the Rice 18. The Pirates turned the ball over on downs following a 1st-and-goal at the Rice 3 in the third quarter on a 34-yard pass play from Flinn to Jsi Hatfield.
“We just had too many missed opportunities to win it,” said ECU coach Mike Houston on the Pirate radio network. “You’ll be able to look back at several big plays where we had a chance and didn’t make the play. That’s the difference in winning and losing.”
ECU’s defense got a three and out on the first possession of the game. Flinn converted a 4th-and-4 at the Rice 44 with a 14-yard pass to Chase Sowell on ECU’s first series before Andrew Conrad provided a 3-0 lead with a 35-yard field goal with 7:17 remaining in the first period.
Conrad had subsequent field goals of 27 and 38 yards as the Pirates trailed, 10-9, at the half.
Down 17-9, ECU pulled even as a 1-yard run by Rahjai Harris with 8:24 to go completed a 17-play drive that covered 80 yards. Sowell wrestled the ball from a defender on a fade route to the right for the tying 2-point conversion.
The Owls regained the lead just two minutes later as J.T. Daniels threw to Landon Ransom-Goelz, who went down the sideline for a 44-yard score.
“I hate we let the screen pass get out on us in the fourth quarter,” Houston said.
ECU lost possession on downs at the Rice 29 on its next series.
The Pirates went for a 4th-and-10 at their 24 but turned the ball over as Daveon Hook broke up a pass intended for Shane Calhoun with 2:17 to go.
The Owls left the door open with a missed 42-yard field goal with 1:11 left. ECU advanced to midfield before Flinn was tackled by Chike Anigbogu with 24 seconds showing.
Flinn completed 21 of 44 for 246 yards with one pick.
“We’ve got to get a little more consistency, not only with his play, but we had too many drops,” Houston said. “You had some big drops tonight.”
True freshman Javious Bond had seven carries for 72 yards for the Pirates. Sowell finished with seven receptions for 88 yards and Hatfield had five catches for 74 yards.
Chad Stephens had 2.5 tackles for loss for the ECU. Teagan Wilk had an interception at the ECU 25 in the first quarter.
Daniels completed 18 of 32 for 240 yards with two scores and one interception for Rice (3-2, 1-1 AAC).
ECU (1-4, 0-1 AAC) has a break before hosting Southern Methodist for a Thursday night ESPN game on Oct. 12, at 7:30 p.m.
“We’re all going to look at this and find plays that we could have made, should have made that would have made a difference in the ball game,” Houston said. “The big thing is we’ve got to keep pushing ourselves so that we make those plays and make those correct decisions.
“We’ve got to stick together. I thought the kids played very hard. There’s no doubt they wanted to come in here and win this ball game.
“We had a good week of preparation. The desire is there and the want-to is there. We’ve got to make the plays when we have opportunities to make the plays.”