Pirates hold strong to win, 19-7
By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector
Saturday, September 21, 2019
East Carolina played its first close football game of the season Saturday night, kicking enough field goals and playing enough defense to hold strong at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium and beat William & Mary 19-7 for the Pirates' second home win in three weeks against Football Championship Subdivision competition.
Trace Christian, a fourth-team running back to start the night who did not play in the first three weeks of the season, also sparked the Pirates in a second half that saw ECU’s defense shut out William & Mary. The Tribe's final points came on Tyler Crist’s touchdown run to make it 7-7 with 9:36 until halftime.
Jake Verity was 4-of-5 on field goals, including a clutch 3-for-3 mark after halftime, for ECU (2-2) to record its first victory while scoring less than 20 points since a 19-14 win against UCF on Sept. 26, 2009.
"I figured this game would be about like this," Pirate first-year coach Mike Houston said. "What we just talked about is would this team have won this game last year? I don't know, but this showed a lot of maturity and pulling for each other and sticking together because they never panicked on the sideline. (William & Mary) got a little bit of the momentum there in the second quarter, but our guys didn't panic and they stayed together.
"We came out in the second half and we did what we have to do. We ran the ball effectively and we played great defense."
A crowd of 38,094, the most people in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium since a Pirate victory over North Carolina on Sept. 8, 2018, saw one touchdown and it was on the first drive when ECU's Holton Ahlers hit tight end Anthony Watley for a 20-yard TD.
It was seldom-used Christian and freshman Tay Williams who stepped up and handled all of the running back carries in the second half to help an injury-depleted running back situation for the hosts. Christian had a game-high 91 yards on 14 carries, and Williams rushed five times for 71 yards.
The Pirates also did not turn the ball over and totaled 480 yards against a Tribe team (2-2) that came in with six interceptions and a plus-7 turnover margin.
On defense, ECU held William & Mary to 122 yards rushing and 138 passing one week after Navy’s 42-10 rout of the Pirates.
"If you practiced and prepared the way we're supposed to, whatever was thrown at us we were ready for," said linebacker Bruce Bivens, who led ECU with nine tackles.
Verity's 31-yard field goal at the 6:10 mark of the second quarter ensured a 10-7 halftime lead for ECU, which also got an interception by Tank Robinson during the final minute of the second quarter to halt the Tribe and for the game's only turnover.
Verity had the distance for a 55-yarder to end the first half, but the ball missed wide to the right for what would have been a new career high compared to his 52-yard makes each of the last two years. He was otherwise perfect, making him 9-for-11 on field goals this year.
"To be able to seal off drives, I'm grateful for any opportunity to help the team in way I can and when I am called on," said Verity, a junior and first-team All-American Athletic Conference selection a year ago.
Pirate leading rusher Darius Pinnix was out with an injury for the second straight week and Demetrius Mauney left the field after falling to the ground on his shoulder during the second quarter.
Ahlers also was a frequent rusher out the backfield, finishing with 14 carries and 60 of East Carolina's 270 rushing yards. He was 20-of-34 passing for 210 yards with the lone TD and he was sacked three times.
"The thing that he has to come along with is pre-snap decision-making and things like that," Houston said of Ahlers, who played the entire game for the first time this year. "That is the only thing that frustrates us a little bit. It's a new offense and a new coordinator, but I thought he played really well at times tonight and maybe the best he has played this year at times tonight."
The Pirates won the coin toss and, to offensive coordinator Donnie Kirkpatrick's liking, chose to receive the ball.
Early looks to the outside to C.J. Johnson set up a loft to an open Watley streaking down the middle of the defense for a 20-yard touchdown and 7-0 lead.
It was the senior's first-career touchdown and a rare score by an ECU tight end. The Pirates had two total tight end TDs from 2015-18, both by Steve Baggett in 2017.
"We wanted a fast start," Houston said. "We talked all week that we don't want to play on our heels and don't want to play passive. ... We have to be aggressive and the theme all week was, 'Take your shot.'"
The Tribe tied the game at the 9:36 mark in the second quarter on Crist's 20-yard power rush up the sideline and into the end zone.
Johnson and Tyler Snead each finished with five catches. Snead was the leading receiver with 67 yards.
William & Mary used two quarterbacks, starter Hollis Mathis and senior backup Kilton Anderson, to complete 13-of-28 passes. Chance Purvis and Aaron Ramseur each had a sack for the Pirates.
ECU finished with 48 run plays and six different rushers, including starting running back Hussein Howe with five carries for 20 yards. Despite not seeing the field during the first half, Christian nearly reached his career high of 102 rushing yards versus Connecticut in 2018.
"That is the style of team I want to be," Houston said. "Maybe some people want to see us throw it every down, but I just tell them that you are not going to make it the promise land throwing the ball 60 times a game. I just don't believe in that."
Contact Ronnie Woodward at firstname.lastname@example.org, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.