As the East Carolina Pirates fall to a 3-7 record after a heartbreaking 55-31 loss to Southern Methodist University, they remove themselves from any chances of a bowl game in the 2016 season.

“The difference in the game, to me, was third downs for them, no ability to get them off the field, and us no ability to stay on the field,” head coach Scottie Montgomery said. “That combined with the turnovers made it a hard, rough day for the Pirates.”

After the ECU defense managed a quick three and out ending with a sack by defensive end Fred Presley the offense took the field eager to strike first on the scoreboard.

In just four short plays and 44 seconds Philip Nelson scored his first rushing touchdown since the season opener against Western Carolina to give ECU an early lead. The Pirate defense then took the field once again as it held SMU to just three points. 

It was then that the ECU offense started to unravel as a third down pass to Quay Johnson was forced out of Johnson’s hands for a fumble that was recovered by the Mustangs. After a 39-yard drive SMU converted the turnover into a touchdown to take the lead at 10-7 for the first time in the game.

 “It’s difficult,” wide receiver Zay Jones said. “I wish we would’ve done some better things in the first half to give ourselves a better chance in the second half, but we just didn’t execute and had some costly turnovers.”

 In an attempt to make up for the fumble, the Pirates began the following drive with six straight rushes, and then closed their possession with a James Summers quarterback keeper for a touchdown to bring the score to 14-10.

The back and forth continued as SMU scored another touchdown within just six plays, which was answered by an ECU field goal to tie the game at 17 all. The Mustangs got the ball back after offsetting penalties and a rekick, but within just six plays SMU closed the drive with a touchdown off of a 39-yard rush by running back Ke’Mon Freeman. 

The game would not stay within reach for very long as the ECU offense’s next three possessions would end in turnovers. The first came on second down when Nelon’s pass was intercepted by defensive back Horace Richardson and returned 70 yards for a touchdown.

Now down 31-17 at the ECU 37-yard-line Summers rushed for nine yards, but was met by SMU linebacker Jackson Mitchell and a fumble was forced for another ECU turnover. The Pirates’ defense managed to hold the Mustangs to a quick three and out, but it was not very helpful as Nelson’s pass was intercepted once again.

 “We can’t have that mindset like, ‘Oh, offense turned over the ball,’ and go out there sad, because then they’re going to go score,” said linebacker Jordan Williams. “So when the offense has a turnover, we get happy, we get up, so we can go stop the other team so we can cause them to have a turnover.”
Just before halftime the Pirates replaced Nelson with sophomore Gardner Minshew, and he closed the first half with a touchdown pass to Jones to bring the score to 24-38. 

“You know, one of the biggest things about me losing my redshirt this year and playing, I wanted to give these seniors a great year,” said Minshew. “I’m very disappointed that I couldn’t help get them another game.” 

The game then continued to slip away from ECU as the Pirates’ opening drive after halftime ended in an interception that resulted in a touchdown. The Mustangs continued to control the game as they scored 10 more points, and held the Pirates to just seven in the second half to take the win. 

“It’s our football team period needs to take care of the ball,” said Summers. “We need to take care of the ball and tackle better, and we’ll be fine. We’ll be great, you know. Just bring the energy that we’ve had these last few games because we had great energy, it’s just things in the game we didn’t overcome.”

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