Many of the issues East Carolina University has faced all season long hurt the Pirates again in a 24-18 loss to the University of Tulane on Saturday.
It was ECU’s fifth straight loss. ECU is now 2-7, eliminating the Pirates from postseason contention despite head coach Scottie Montgomery promising a bowl game after last season ended.
Montgomery is encouraged that the Pirates are competitive in their losses, a big improvement from last season.
"Our guys battled. I've got to go into the locker room and get our team together,” Montgomery said per ecupirates.com. “We've got a great bunch of guys. We've recruited some big-time players, and the heart of Pirate Nation and the heart of the Pirates, we're starting to see it again."
ECU came in determined to stop the Tulane running attack, and did so by limiting the Green Wave to 163 rushing yards despite 49 attempts.
It was the big plays that has hurt ECU all season long that came up in the Tulane passing game. Tulane scored on passing touchdowns of 86, 79 and 73 yards. Two of those came off of slant routes after Memphis scored on the first play of the second half last week on a slant route which went 75 yards.
“The only thing they did to us tonight, they hit some slants on us and caught us in a couple of coverages because they knew we were going to stop the run,” Montgomery said per ecupirates.com.
After tying a season-high with 41 points last week, ECU could not get any offensive rhythm of its own going. Freshman quarterback Holton Ahlers threw for 360 yards for his third straight 300-yard game, but was just 21-for-67 on passes. Ahlers threw one interception which wasn’t close to his receiver.
Ahlers inefficiency was a combination of poor blocking from the offensive line (five sacks) or missed open receivers.
ECU remained in the game simply because of two big plays of its own. Ahlers threw touchdown passes of 80 and 31 yards to senior wide receiver Trevon Brown, who had his fourth straight 100-yard receiving game. The 31-yard touchdown followed by a 2-point conversion in the fourth quarter put ECU within three points.
The rushing attack of ECU was nonexistent, with Ahlers once again being the leading rusher with 67 yards despite five sacks. Ahlers had 16 carries while ECU running backs combined for nine carries and just 21 yards.
Penalties also hurt the Pirates. ECU had a double-reverse run by senior wide receiver Terrell Green go for a touchdown get called back, and a holding call that called back a field goal by junior kicker Jake Verity in the third quarter. Those two combined to cost the Pirates 10 points in total.
Still, ECU had the ball down six points with one more chance to win the game. Ahlers completed a long pass to freshman wide receiver Tyler Snead before making what appeared to be another long completion to Brown. The catch was reviewed and overruled, with Brown landing out of bounds. The drive stalled from there and ECU ran out of time.
“I thought that was going to be a defining moment for the season, and it didn't happen. Right there at the end, our guys just battled,” Montgomery said per ecupirates.com. “That was one of the gutsiest performances we've had. They played for one another, they played for us, they played for ECU, they played for Pirate Nation tonight."
ECU is now 0-3 on the road this season, and 1-13 in road games under Montgomery. ECU is also 0-6 in American Athletic Conference play this season, and 3-19 in AAC games in the last three seasons.
ECU hosts the University of Connecticut for its senior night next Saturday before going on the road to the University of Cincinnati and North Carolina State University.