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Loss seals no bowl fate for Pirates

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East Carolina quarterback Holton Ahlers passes as Tulane's Zachery Harris (40) pursues during Saturday's game at Yulman Stadium.

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, November 10, 2018

NEW ORLEANS, La. — No bowl game.

A postseason berth that third-year East Carolina football coach Scottie Montgomery guaranteed at the end of last season would happen cannot now after ECU suffered its fifth straight loss, this time a 24-18 defeat at Tulane behind 535 yards of offense by the surging Green Wave (5-5, 4-2 American Athletic Conference).

At 2-7 and still winless in the AAC (0-6), even ECU winning its final three games would give it five victories, one short of the six needed to qualify for a bowl game.

The Pirates trailed for most of the game, rallying early in the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to 24-18. After that, they didn’t score in four offensive possessions.

“I set the expectation because I believe in our kids, and it is tough when you don’t get to play potentially in the postseason,” Montgomery said. “It is always tough. What we have to do is focus our guys on just playing better next week and then playing better the next and the next week and getting wins in those weeks. That’s where the focus goes now.

“We played really hard on the road, but we didn’t quite get it done.”

Montgomery’s 8-25 overall record now includes a 1-13 mark in road games.

Quarterback Holton Ahlers led the Pirates in rushing for the seventh straight game with 67 yards, but it was his passing attempts that stood out the most. The freshman passed 67 times, completing 21 for 360 yards, two touchdowns and an early interception.

Tulane and QB Just McMillan enjoyed a much more quick-strike style, hitting on passing touchdowns of 86, 73 and 79 yards to extend its win streak to three games. McMillan was 12-of-28 for 372 yards.

Both of ECU’s touchdowns were deep fade passes to Trevon Brown, who made eight catches for 161 yards.

The Pirates finished 3-for-21 on third downs. Tulane was 3-of-18.

“We had some big plays and some really huge plays that Trevon made, but we just didn’t top the plays that they made,” Montgomery said.

East Carolina’s second TD was followed by a two-point conversion pass to Brown, cutting the Tulane lead to 21-18 with 11:54 remaining. Merek Glover’s field goal at the 7:35 mark made it 24-18.

ECU had four more possessions, the first two resulting in punts, then a turnover on downs and finally a game-ending drive that was halted around midfield when the clock ran out.

“Obviously we haven’t won in a while and like we want to, but once we get that first one we are going to get rolling,” Ahlers said. “We are going to keep coming back to work and believing in each other. We have the right guys, we just have to pull through at the end.”

ECU’s two running backs to carry the ball — Hussein Howe and Darius Pinnix — had nine combined rushes for 21 yards.

A crushing touchdown on Tulane’s first offensive play of the second half was a slant pass over the middle to Darnell Mooney that he cashed in to a 79-yard touchdown for a 21-10 lead. He weaved inside of freshman safety Daniel Charles after making the catch for one of the Green Wave’s three 70-plus yard touchdowns in its third straight victory.

The Pirates, whose only lead was 3-0 during the first five minutes of the game, also gave up a long touchdown on a short slant pass a week ago for Memphis’ first play of the second half.

Mooney had six receptions for 217 yards and two scores.

Two short passes that turned into long touchdowns by the Green Wave paved the way for its 14-10 halftime lead.

The first was a slant to Mooney, who broke a tackle attempt by Davondre Robinson and raced to an 86-yard touchdown for the Wave’s longest pass play since November of 2015. The score was still 7-3 Tulane with about 5 minutes remaining in the first half when McMillan connected with Terren Encalade over the middle, and he eluded Corey Seargent and got a boost with a devastating block on Aaron Ramsuer near the home sideline on the way to 73-yard TD.

“We stopped the run like we were supposed to. It was just those three plays,” Robinson said.

ECU’s answer came with 2:31 left in the second quarter on a deep fade route to Brown for an 80-yard touchdown, cutting the deficit to 14-10. Brown has six touchdowns in the last four games combined.

Tulane got the ball first and was stuffed on fourth-and-1 when Robinson read a wildcat run perfectly and darted from his free safety position and into the backfield to stuff Darius Bradwell behind the line of scrimmage.

The Pirates immediately took the lead on Jake Verity’s 46-yard field goal. A running touchdown by receiver Terrell Green earlier in the drive was wiped out by an illegal block penalty.

Tulane then scored 14 unanswered points, taking a 14-3 advantage with 5:13 remaining in the second quarter.

Ahlers was 11-of-30 for 218 yards during the opening half.

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

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