Nov 11, 2022; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; East Carolina Pirates head coach Mike Houston during the second half against the Cincinnati Bearcats at Nippert Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

East Carolina looks for bounce-back win over Houston

Houston and East Carolina already are bowl-eligible, but there is still plenty to be decided when the teams meet Saturday in an American Athletic Conference game in Greenville, N.C.

The Pirates (6-4, 3-3 AAC) will head home after a 27-25, close-but-no-cigar loss at Cincinnati on Friday that snapped their three-game winning streak. The setback also eliminated the Pirates in the conference championship race.

The Cougars (6-4, 4-2) are still mathematically alive for a berth in the AAC championship game but will have to win out and get a lot of help.

East Carolina outplayed Cincinnati last week, amassing more yards (454-310) and winning the time-of-possession battle (36:43 to 23:17). ECU also did not commit a turnover.

The Pirates limited Cincinnati to 66 yards on the ground but were victimized by two long scoring passes (55 and 76 yards). East Carolina also allowed a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

“You just can’t give up those explosive plays and the kickoff return,” East Carolina coach Mike Houston said. “That’s it. That’s the ballgame right there. If we make those plays, make a tackle on the kickoff return, it’s a different ballgame.”

East Carolina took a 25-24 lead late in the third quarter, only to see Cincinnati produce the game-winning field goal from 21 yards out with 9:42 to play.

“The way the kids battled back in the second half, got the lead — we just need to be able to finish it off there at the end,” Houston said.

The Pirates’ four losses this season are by a combined 21 points, 15 of which came in a defeat at Tulane on Oct. 8.

The Cougars came from behind to beat Temple 43-36 at home last week, bouncing back after a 77-63 loss at SMU and winning their fourth game in its past five outings.

Quarterback Clayton Tune hit Matthew Golden with a 44-yard TD pass with 40 seconds to play to cap the comeback. Tune finished with 318 total yards (289 passing, 29 rushing) and four touchdowns — three through the air.

Stacy Sneed ran for 143 yards in the win, rushing for at least 100 yards for the second time in the past four games.

“There’s been times this season when the defense has been good, times when the offense has been good, and there’s been times when the special teams has been good — and then there’s been times where all three sides stink,” Houston coach Dana Holgorsen said. “We don’t quit, so I commend our coaches and our players for just attacking it and not quitting.”

–Field Level Media

Oct 15, 2022; Greenville, North Carolina, USA;  East Carolina Pirates cornerback Malik Fleming (1) celebrates breaking up a pass attempt against the Memphis Tigers during the second half at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

High-flying ECU visits free-falling BYU

With East Carolina coming off its best win of the season and BYU coming off its worst loss, the teams meet in a nonconference tilt Friday night in Provo, Utah.

After a 3-3 start, East Carolina (5-3) has won two straight — following up a four-overtime thriller against Memphis with Saturday’s impressive 34-14 rout of UCF.

The Pirates never trailed, building a 17-0 first-half lead against the Knights, who had entered the game 5-1 and were undefeated in AAC play. When UCF closed the gap to a touchdown early in the second half, East Carolina outscored the visitors 17-3 the rest of the way.

There was little time for the Pirates to celebrate, with a short week turning their attention immediately to BYU (4-4).

“They’re coming off a couple of tough losses, but we do expect them to get a couple guys back this weekend,” Pirates coach Mike Houston said of BYU. “One of the stiffest challenges of the year will be us going on the road and trying to get a win this Friday night.”

ECU junior safety Jireh Wilson was named AAC Defensive Player of the Week after he recorded his second interception, recovered a fumble and posted three tackles (one solo) in the win.

Meanwhile, it’s been six weeks since the Cougars’ fans stormed the field following a 26-20 win over then-No. 9 Baylor.

BYU has lost three in a row, with Saturday’s 41-14 loss at Liberty more damaging than previous losses to Oregon, Notre Dame and Arkansas.

A fourth consecutive loss would endanger the Cougars’ bowl chances. After facing the streaking Pirates, BYU faces Boise State, FCS school Utah Tech (a non-major opponent that won’t help in bowl consideration) and goes to Stanford.

Saturday in Lynchburg, Va., Liberty won for the seventh time in eight games and Flames fans did their own field-storming.

“I look forward to seeing who wants to come out of this mess,” Sitake said. “It is an easy filter for me, (to) see who wants to join the fight and who wants to not be a part of it. We will get through it.”

On offense, BYU had just 258 yards on 50 plays, but defense has been the Cougars’ bigger problem.

Sitake made changes after the Cougars gave up 644 yards in the 35-52 loss to Arkansas, and he took over defensive play-calling duties from coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki.

Still, nothing worked, as Liberty rolled up 547 yards, including 300 on the ground.

–Field Level Media

Memphis Tigers quarterback Seth Henigan (5) keeps hold of the ball as North Texas Mean Green defensive tackle Roderick Brown (10) and North Texas Mean Green defensive lineman Fatafehi Vailea (51) guard him during a Memphis Tigers game against the North Texas Mean Green on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, at Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium in Memphis. Memphis defeated North Texas 44-34.

Memphis, ECU look to bounce back in AAC tilt

The Memphis Tigers and host East Carolina Pirates are both looking for a bounce-back win when they meet Saturday in an American Athletic Conference game in Greenville, N.C.

The Tigers (4-2, 2-1) ended a four-game winning streak by squandering a 19-point fourth-quarter lead last Friday, giving up two touchdowns in the final 1:17 in a 33-32 loss to Houston.

East Carolina (3-3, 1-2) fell to Tulane 24-9 on Saturday, with the Green Wave scoring the game’s final 17 points after the Pirates took a 9-7 first-half lead.

“Nobody’s happy with us being 4-2 right now,” Memphis coach Ryan Silverfield said. “I’m not happy with our record because we can be better.

“I can come up here and mope around — ‘Oh, woe is me.’ No. It’s got to be, ‘How do we get better? How do we learn from this and how do we fix this?’”

Memphis can start by not allowing 366 passing yards and three touchdowns through the air and giving up a 100-yard kickoff return, which really launched Houston’s big comeback last week.

The Tigers have been much better offensively, with Seth Henigan completing 63.6 percent of his passes for 1,517 yards with 10 touchdowns and just one interception. Three running backs have netted more than 200 yards, with Brandon Thomas scoring seven touchdowns. Tight end Caden Prieskorn has six touchdown receptions as one of four players with at least 19 catches.

East Carolina started 2-1 but has lost two of its past three games. The Pirates are coming off their lowest-scoring output of the season and are looking for quarterback Holton Ahlers to get back on track.

Ahlers’ 1,820 passing yards rank 10th in FBS and his 16 TDs are tied for sixth, in FBS. He has been intercepted six times.

“You know, we’re 3-3 at the halfway point and we have really good football teams on our schedule the rest of the time,” Ahlers said. “I know in that locker room, there’s a lot of guys that care.”

Last year, East Carolina edged Memphis 30-29 in overtime, but the Tigers have won two of the past three meetings, including a 59-41 win in their last trip to Greenville in 2018.

–Field Level Media

Sep 24, 2022; Louisville, Kentucky, USA; South Florida Bulls quarterback Gerry Bohanon (11) runs the ball against the Louisville Cardinals during the second quarter at Cardinal Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

USF, ECU look to rebound from tough losses

South Florida enters unfamiliar territory for its American Athletic Conference opener against visiting East Carolina on Saturday in Boca Raton, Fla.

The game was scheduled to be played in Tampa on the same day, but due to the approach of Hurricane Ian, South Florida moved the game to FAU’s football stadium and changed the kickoff time to 2:30 p.m. ET.

Making matters more difficult for the Bulls (1-3, 0-0 AAC) is that they’re still picking up the pieces from a 41-3 thrashing at the hands of Louisville last week.

Baylor transfer quarterback Gerry Bohanon had his worst outing of the season, going 9 for 17 for 62 yards and two interceptions. In four games with the Bulls, Bohanon has thrown for 569 yards and six picks without a touchdown.

Jeff Scott removed Bohanon from the game with the Bulls behind 31-0 in the third quarter, a benching the coach said was partly about Bohanon’s health.

“I didn’t want to lose our starting quarterback before we played our first conference game,” Scott said. “He was banged up coming out of the Florida game and wasn’t able to throw as much during the week in practice, but we felt like he could go. Once it got to that point, you’ve got to think about your entire season.”

The Bulls take on East Carolina (2-2, 0-1) as it comes off a disappointing double-overtime loss in its AAC opener.

The Pirates took Navy to overtime after a back-and-forth fourth quarter. East Carolina could not score in the second overtime as it fell 23-20 at home.

East Carolina missed a game-tying extra point to lose to then-No. 13 NC State by one point in the season opener, then beat Old Dominion and FCS Campbell.

“They’re sitting here two plays from being 4-0. It’s tough,” ECU coach Mike Houston said. “I’m proud of our kids. I’m proud of our leadership, because they’ve been the ones that have brought us here and kind of given us these opportunities and they continue to lead with a lot of maturity and determination.”

The Pirates rank fourth in the AAC in scoring defense (18.8 ppg), while the offense is led by running back Keaton Mitchell and veteran quarterback Holton Ahlers. Mitchell’s 386 rushing yards rank second in the conference, and Ahlers has thrown for 1,067 yards, nine touchdowns and three interceptions.

South Florida owns the all-time series lead 9-3, but East Carolina has won the past two meetings.

–Field Level Media

Sep 10, 2022; Greenville, North Carolina, USA;  East Carolina Pirates quarterback Holton Ahlers (12) throws the ball against the Old Dominion Monarchs before the game at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Against struggling Navy, East Carolina aims to open AAC slate with a win

Quarterback Holton Ahlers and East Carolina will aim to start their conference schedule on a positive note when Navy visits Greenville, N.C., on Saturday afternoon.

East Carolina (2-1) has been humming after a heartbreaking one-point home loss to then-ranked No. 13 NC State in Week 1. The Pirates beat Old Dominion 39-21 before last week’s 49-10 romp over Campbell, an in-state opponent from the FCS.

Ahlers threw for three touchdowns last week and is already up to 800 yards and seven TDs on the season while completing 67 percent of his passes. Earlier this season, Ahlers became the American Athletic Conference’s all-time career leader in completions with 879.

The fifth-year quarterback has been a part of several East Carolina-Navy games before. The Midshipmen lead the all-time series 7-2, but ECU broke a five-game skid last year with a 38-35 win in Annapolis, Md. Ahlers racked up 405 yards and three touchdowns on 27-of-32 passing, outscoring a Navy attack that gained 345 rushing yards.

“He looks like an NFL quarterback,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “You don’t realize how big he is (6-foot-4, 230 pounds) until you see him on the field. He’s bigger than our outside linebackers. He’s a big dude, smart, composed. … I wouldn’t be surprised if he got a shot on Sundays. He’s got all the tools.”

Navy (0-2, 0-1 AAC) is coming off a bye week after a 14-7 loss to FCS Delaware and a 37-13 setback to Memphis, both at home. Only one team, New Mexico State, has had a worse scoring offense in all of FBS than the Mids’ 10 points per game this season.

But like every coach in the conference, ECU’s Mike Houston has spent extra time scheming against Navy’s triple-option offense — increasingly a rarity in FBS football.

Houston said longtime assistant Roy Tesh, currently the Pirates’ defensive tackles coach, has experience coaching against the triple when they ran it at previous stops together, including The Citadel of FCS.

“I think that’s what we hang our hat on, is being a physical football team,” Houston said. “But that’s what Navy hangs their hat on too. … Ken very much believes in a lot of the same things I believe in as far as how you win consistently.”

–Field Level Media

Sep 3, 2022; Greenville, North Carolina, USA;  North Carolina State Wolfpack quarterback Devin Leary (13) throws the ball against the East Carolina Pirates during the first half at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

No. 13 NC State escapes East Carolina 21-20 on late missed kicks

East Carolina’s hopes of upsetting local rival No. 13 N.C. State were dashed when kicker Owen Daffer missed what would have been a game-winning field goal from 41 yards out with nine seconds to play. In the season-opener for both teams in Greenville, North Carolina, the visiting Wolfpack escaped with a 21-20 victory over the Pirates.

East Carolina (0-1) seemed to have swung momentum when they picked off N.C. State (1-0) quarterback Devin Leary late in the fourth quarter. Four plays later, ECU found the endzone on a three-yard scamper by Rahjai Harris.

But Daffer also missed the point-after-try after Harris’ score, which would’ve tied the game with 2:58 to play. After forcing a Wolfpack three-and-out, ECU put together a six-play, 47-yard drive to put Daffer in scoring position, but the kick sailed wide right.

It’s the first time the Wolfpack have won in Greenville since 2007.

After falling behind 7-0 early in a packed-out Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, the Wolfpack swung the game back in their favor by scoring twice in the span of 66 seconds.

First, Leary capped off an eight-play 64-yard drive with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Thayer Thomas. Then, after forcing an ECU three-and-out, N.C. State’s Josh Provillon broke through to block Luke Larsen’s rugby-style punt. The ball bounced into the endzone, where the Pack’s Sean Brown recovered it.

Thayer’s scoring grab moved him into second place all-time in program history with 21 receiving touchdowns. He finished the day with four catches for 58 yards. Leary was 17-of-33 through the air for 211 yards.

N.C. State tacked on another touchdown just before halftime, as Demi Sumo-Karngbaye covered 24 yards as he raced into the endzone.

The Wolfpack were marred in this game by an ineffectiveness on third downs — just 4-of-13 on conversions — and penalties, picking up eight flags for 73 yards.

ECU’s Holton Ahlers racked up 303 yards of total offense and two passing touchdowns. He also threw two interceptions.

N.C. State’s Payton Wilson — a team captain and preseason All-ACC selection at linebacker — exited the game in the second quarter and did not return to play after suffering an apparent upper body injury.

The game set an attendance record for the Pirates’ stadium, with an announced crowd of 51,711.

–Field Level Media