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Pirates grounded again in 42-20 loss

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Houston's D'Eriq King, right, is chased down by East Carolina's Kendall Futrell during their game on Oct. 13, 2018. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, October 13, 2018

A week-long theme of a possible new-look East Carolina football offense did not come to fruition Saturday night against Houston at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

On a night when ECU had its first announced crowd of less than 30,000 since the finale of the 2005 season, the Pirates used all three of their quarterbacks for the third straight game and fans saw recently familiar scenes of an opposing American Athletic Conference team running away with a win.

Houston kept its sights on making the league championship game, beating ECU 42-20 and also dropping the Pirates (2-4 overall) to 0-3 in the American. UH led 42-6 with 11:27 remaining before backup freshman QB Holton Ahlers led two touchdown drives for the scuffling Pirates.

Houston (5-1, 2-0) led 21-3 at halftime and then turned up its defensive pressure in a third quarter that saw ECU lose 34 yards rushing in the period.

Ahlers could be on track to start, as soon as next week against Central Florida.

“I thought that Holton came in and gave us a tremendous boost, and that is something that will not go unnoticed,” Pirate coach Scottie Montgomery said. “The only time we didn’t miss throws was during the last two or three drives of the game, which was the only positive offensively I think that we had throughout the night. It was a tough loss and there were 42 points on the board, one (TD) from a sacked fumble and score, but I thought our defense gave us a chance.”

The announced crowd was 29,851.

A fourth-quarter surge led to a 415-406 final advantage in yards by the Pirates, but they were doomed by four turnovers.

Ahlers played most of the fourth period and his 13-yard TD pass to Trevon Brown stopped ECU’s streak of 10 quarters without a touchdown in league action.

Reid Herring started at quarterback, but was on the sideline again for most of the second half.

He threw two interceptions — giving him seven for the season compared to six touchdowns — and he lost a fumble that was returned for a short TD. The sophomore finished 26-of-42 for 229 yards.

Kingsley Ifedi was 1-for-3 for 8 yards and a third Pirate interception.

Ahlers finished 11-of-18 for 137 yards and the first touchdown pass of his career. He also ran for a 1-yard TD with 1:27 remaining, creating the final score.

But the Cougars were well on their way to a win before the Pirates piled on late points. UH took a 42-6 advantage early in fourth on a receiver touchdown pass.

“It is hard to beat a tough team and a good team when you get down like that,” said Brown, who led all receivers with 13 catches for 153 yards. “This game is going to be behind us tomorrow and we have UCF coming in and we have to get off to a good start. No matter how good a team or bad a team is, when you get down like that, it is tough to come back.”

For the second straight week, the Pirates trailed 14-0 at the end of the first quarter. They have been outscored by a total count of 61-31 in the first quarter this year.

After two three-and-outs to begin for the Pirate offense, they recorded their initial first down with 6:57 remaining in the first quarter and UH already leading 14-0.

Houston’s defense took over from there, including recording a defensive TD during the third period when linebacker Emeke Egbule scooped a fumble and returned it 5 yards to the end zone for a 28-6 lead with 5:00 remaining in the third. The fumble was caused by a sack by All-American lineman Ed Oliver, his first of the season, of Herring.

Oliver finished with two sacks and five of the Cougars’ 12 tackles for loss. The Cougs’ lone loss this year is a 63-49 defeat at Texas Tech.

“He was playing hard and a couple times he got back there and disrupted a few things, but still, we have to make more plays,” Herring said of Oliver.

Added Oliver: “When you just play hard and beat up on an offense the whole game, they get tired and make mental mistakes and get careless with the football.”

Jake Verity made a 32-yard field goal about halfway through the second quarter for ECU, temporarily halting UH’s momentum. He was wide left on a 49-yarder just before halftime, when the Cougars had built their lead to 21-3, and it marked Verity’s first missed FG of the season (12-of-13).

A positive for East Carolina was its three sacks, including one by defensive end Nate Harvey to give him 8.5 for the season. The Cougs came into the game with one sack allowed.

Speedy QB D’Eriq King thew a touchdown pass on his team’s first drive — a 38-yarder to Courtney Lark on a slant pattern that Lark turned into a score by out-racing cornerback Colby Gore to the end zone — and King ran an 8-yard touchdown on UH’s second possession. He finished 13-of-23 passing for 209 yards and two touchdowns.

Patrick Carr rushed 13 times for 70 yards. ECU’s leading rusher was Ahlers with five carries for 45 yards.

“Scoring touchdowns are directly connected to the people that are in the game,” Montgomery said. “You have to have playmakers score touchdowns. If you look at their drives and who is scoring touchdowns and who is moving the ball, it is very important that you pay attention to that.

“There have been some big drives and some big gains when certain people are in the game (for ECU), so that is something that we have to look at.”

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.

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