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ECU drops another game

East Carolina Cincinnati Football
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East Carolina wide receiver Zay Jones, left, runs the ball against Cincinnati cornerback Grant Coleman (13) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

East Carolina Cincinnati Football
East Carolina Cincinnati Football
East Carolina Cincinnati Football
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By Nathan Summers
The Daily Reflector

Sunday, October 23, 2016

CINCINNATI, Ohio – East Carolina fumbled and stumbled for a fifth straight football game on Saturday night, surrendering another first half lead and again seeing a comeback attempt slip away in a 31-19 loss to Cincinnati in Nippert Stadium.

The Pirates battled back from a 14-3 halftime hole, trading scores with the host Bearcats for much of the second half. But down five points late in the fourth quarter and driving toward the Cincy goal line, ECU tailback Anthony Scott was blasted by a big hit, the ball hit the turf and was covered by the Bearcats, who were able to grind out their first American Athletic Conference win and keep the Pirates winless in the league.

It marked the fifth straight loss for ECU, the first such stretch since 2004. The Pirates (2-5, 0-3 AAC) coughed up touchdowns in the final minute of the first three quarters.

“It's getting to the point now where the frustration has to change into victories,” ECU head coach Scottie Montgomery said of his team. “We did a lot in that second half, got the ball back, got some stops by our defense. We drove the ball down, fumbled the ball. We come back and the defense gets a great stop, and (the offense) gets to fourth (down) and about half a yard, can't get half a yard. … All that combined, you lose games.”

Montgomery said his team played with great effort, but added effort “doesn't win games at this level without great detail and great execution.”

Down 14-3, the Pirates got a 28-yard touchdown when quarterback Philip Nelson found Jimmy Williams on consecutive long pass plays early in the third quarter, immediately injecting the visitors back into the hunt at 14-10.

But after the teams traded field goals, Cincinnati (4-3, 1-3) made it 24-13 on the second of three touchdown passes from QB Gunner Kiel to receiver Kahlil Lewis. The two connected again to seal the game with 2:44 left in the fourth.

The Pirates responded with a scoring drive of their own, as Nelson (283 pass yards, two TDs, two interceptions) found Williams (seven catches, 129 yds., two TDs), who flattened his defender at the line of scrimmage for a 37-yard TD that made it 24-19 after a botched 2-point conversion.

Minutes later, an ECU drive at midfield ended when James Summers (team-high 95 rush yds.) was unable to get across the line on a fourth-and-1 play, something Montgomery said was indicative of what he called “a program loss.”

“It's tough because our guys are good enough, but we're running out of personnel to keep trying at different positions,” Montgomery said. “The more that we can put guys in positions to win, like we did tonight, and we come out unsuccessful, it makes it really, really frustrating.”

The ECU defense delivered a host of chances to the visiting offense, and was led by eight tackles each from Corey Seargent, Terrell Richardson, Travon Simmons and Yiannis Bowden.

Kiel, mired all season at the third spot on the Bearcat depth chart, returned to his former glory against the Pirates, finishing with 348 pass yards and four touchdowns. Lewis lit up ECU for 11 catches for 150 yards, while Devin Gray added six for 98 yards.

Nelson, who was knocked out of each of the last two games with shots to the head, took another one from behind from UC linebacker Antonio Kinard. Nelson stayed in the game and Kinard was ejected.

As for the Pirates' turnover woes — Scott has five total fumbles and three lost fumbles this season — Montgomery said he is forced to keep trying new things.

“We've got to continue to evaluate the position,” the coach said of his running backs. “We moved James into the starting role and tried to use Anthony as an exterior player and spell him a little bit. It's just really, really frustrating for our team to have that ball hit the ground. We score right there, our defense has a lot of momentum, our team has a lot of momentum.”

The Pirates started the game brightly, driving the field on their opening possession and taking an immediate 3-0 lead on Davis Plowman's short field goal. But as has been the case for much of the recent ECU past, the Pirates flopped for the rest of the half while Cincinnati battled through its own sluggishness to post consecutive unanswered touchdowns for a 14-3 intermission lead.

Kiel was steady, rolling up 191 yards and throwing TD passes of 14 and 18 yards. Nelson was shaky, including forcing a throw toward Williams near the goal line in the second quarter and being picked off by Cincy's Alex Thomas.

ECU also failed to help itself on a big special teams play. Mike Myers got a hand on a Bearcat field goal attempt, sending the ball rolling toward the goal line, but instead of letting it roll, Devon Sutton downed the ball at the goal line, forcing the Pirate offense to take over at its own 1.

The early 3-0 edge lasted most of the opening quarter, but with 37 seconds left, Kiel capped a drive with a perfect throw to the left corner of the end zone to D.J. Dowdy for a 14-yard TD and 7-3 lead.

It wasn't until the final ticks of the second quarter that the Bearcats struck again with a TD, this time with 28 seconds left.

Starting on its own 7, UC got the big play it needed to ignite a late score when Kiel dumped a short pass under pressure to Mike Boone, who exploded for 54 yards deep into ECU territory. Kiel floated another accurate pass over the head of cornerback Colby Gore and into the hands of Lewis for an 18-yard TD and 14-3 edge.

ECU has led at the half just one time this season, in the Pirates' opening-night victory over Western Carolina.

Contact Nathan Summers at nsummers@reflector.com, 252-329-9595 or follow @NateSumm99 on Twitter.

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