East Carolina UConn Football

East Carolina defensive players, including Tank Robinson (13) and Alex Angus (15), celebrate Colby Gore’s interception Saturday for ECU to beat Connecticut 31-24 in East Hartford, Conn.

East Carolina football’s 31-24 win against Connecticut on Saturday ensured at least a four-win season for the Pirates’ best record since 2015. It also marked ECU’s first year winning multiple road games since 2015.

One more victory would make the Pirates 5-7 overall and give them their first non-losing November record since 2014.

Notice a theme?

ECU and first-year coach Mike Houston had a goal this year of a bowl game and other aspirations, but at its core, the real goal of this East Carolina football season was to distance the team from three straight 3-9 seasons.

Those 2016-18 years — the Scottie Montgomery coaching era mixed with Jeff Compher’s infamous run as athletics director — were damaging years for the Pirates.

Long-term damage was elicited and it is still felt financially and elsewhere at ECU, but this team successfully getting past the 3-9 barrier was a vital step in the recovery process.

The win over UConn was far from dominant. It featured late-game drama, requiring a fourth-quarter, go-ahead touchdown drive and a last-second interception by the visitors.

It was fitting that it wasn’t easy, much like it is fitting that Montgomery is now offensive coordinator for a Maryland team with a 3-8 record going into the final week of the regular season.

ECU’s latest win didn’t register on the national radar, especially considering UConn’s status as one of the most woeful teams in the country with an impending exit from the American Athletic Conference, but it was a significant victory for the hopeful Pirates.

They simply couldn’t go 3-9 again. They were aware of those consequences.

Houston sat down for his postgame news conference, a giddy yet relaxed and relieved look on his face that still had a fresh layer of red chill from the Connecticut air outside, and immediately wanted to talk about the significance of win No. 4.

Players and coaches had just celebrated in the visiting locker room at Rentschler Field unlike any other team that beat the Huskies this year.

ECU’s most veteran players had been forced to publicly discuss two numbing numbers — three, nine — month after month and year after year.

They are past those numbers now. They enjoyed breaking down the importance of win No. 4.

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