ECU runs over Bulldogs, 48-9
By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector
Saturday, September 7, 2019
Facing the Gardner-Webb Runnin' Bulldogs, it was East Carolina's football team that did most of the quality running Saturday night.
The Pirates also were much better at tackling and throwing.
ECU started hot and produced an expected blowout in coach Mike Houston's home debut at new-look Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, scoring on its first four drives en route to a 48-9 win.
A steady and physical dose of quarterback Holton Ahlers and starting running back Darius Pinnix led the way for the Pirates, who were held to 41 yards on 29 carries a week ago in a loss at N.C. State but churned out 365 rushing yards on 51 carries against Gardner-Webb (0-2) from the Football Championship Subdivision. Pinnix scored two first-half touchdowns and finished with a career-high 134 yards on 21 carries. Freshman Demetrius Mauney shined in the final quarter to total 107 yards.
It was 17-0 Pirates at the end of the first quarter and 31-7 at halftime. ECU enjoyed a 196-10 rushing advantage during the opening half.
"That's how it should look,” Houston said.
Ahlers scored a rushing touchdown on the game's first drive, setting the tone for a rout in front of 34,118 fans. Last year's average attendance at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, which added TowneBank Tower this offseason, was 32,908 during a third straight 3-9 campaign by the Pirates.
Houston got his first win for ECU (1-1), and improved to 81-26 for his career, during a difficult week for him. The coach announced Tuesday that his father, Bill, died earlier that morning, and Houston spent part of the week in his hometown of Franklin.
“I knew when I took the job in December, that’s when my dad’s health started to decline a little more rapidly,” he said. “I knew the day would come, but it came really quick over the weekend. It kind of punches you in the gut, but the support of the fans and the staff here and everyone was really incredible. … I have a lot of really good people in my life.”
Ahlers ran for 78 yards and two touchdowns and finished 18-of-29 passing for 195 yards, a touchdown and interception. Blake Proehl (seven receptions, 68 yards) caught the touchdown pass.
Total yardage was 574-186 in favor of the Pirates.
They received the opening kickoff for the second straight week and immediately got going with Pinnix. The 6-foot, 234-pound junior followed two opening rushes by catching a swing pass and shifting and breaking a few tackles in the open field for a 24-yard play.
ECU ran five times for 35 yards on the opening drive, capped by Ahlers powering in from 7 yards for a 7-0 lead.
“Today, I came out with a chip on my shoulder,” said Pinnix, who carried 11 times for 23 yards versus the Wolfpack, which beat ECU 34-6. "Coach Houston challenged me this week to be better and be great.”
Ahlers’ opening TD was the first of the Pirates' season and their first since a 56-6 loss at Cincinnati on Nov. 23, 2018, stopping a streak of 10 straight quarters without ECU getting in the end zone.
“Any time you can run the ball like that, it opens up the passing game as well,” Ahlers said. “I thought we came out and went with the game plan. The O-line did a great job.”
Defensive highlights included freshman cornerback Ja'Quan McMillian's interception during the second quarter. He returned it 32 yards to the Bulldog 1-yard line. Ahlers then trotted in for his second rushing TD of the night, creating a 31-7 advantage just before halftime.
Linebacker Gerard Stringer grabbed an INT early in the third quarter. Alex Turner had two of ECU’s five sacks.
Tank Robinson was ejected for a targeting hit during the second quarter, leading to freshman Jireh Wilson being inserted at free safety for his most extensive action.
ECU improved to 26-3 all-time against Division I-AA/FCS opponents. The Pirates lost to James Madison, which was then coached by Houston, in 2017 and North Carolina A&T a year ago. Both of those losses happened in Greenville.
“It was special and especially for coach Mike Houston and the week he’s had, and this is his first win at ECU,” Turner said. “For all of us, all of the work we put in during the spring and the offseason is worth it and it’s coming together. We’re ready for the rest of the season and excited.”
Gardner-Webb nose tackle Josh Ramseur, an older brother of Pirate backup linebacker Aaron Ramseur, was difficult to handle for the middle part of the East Carolina line. He finished with 10 tackles, including three for loss and one for a safety, and Aaron had six.
As ECU tacked on to its rushing total all night, however, the Bulldogs finished with 34 carries for 39 yards.
"Our backs did a much better this week with yards after contact, and I thought we had a lot of energy on both sides of the ball," Houston said. "I told the kids that you get about 12 hours to rest and celebrate the victory, but then we have to start getting ready for Navy. That is a big ball game up there next week."
Contact Ronnie Woodward at firstname.lastname@example.org, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.