The ECU Pirates headed into Spectrum Stadium in Orlando to take on the UCF Knights Saturday night and left with a 41-28 loss. The Pirates are now 3-4 on the season, and 0-3 in American Athletic Conference play.
The game was a tale of two halves for both teams. ECU went into this game as a huge underdog and played like it in the first half. The Knights scored on their first five drives of the game to jump out to a 35-3 lead and it looked like it was going to be an ugly one in Orlando.
ECU then flipped the script. UCF punted on its next four drives and turned it over on a lost fumble on the next drive. They had the four-play, 75-yard drive late in the third quarter, but no other drive went more than 35 yards.
On the other side, ECU’s first six drives ended with five punts and one field goal. The next five drives? Two touchdowns, two field goals, and just one punt.
ECU outscored the Knights 26-6 the rest of the way after that early 35-3 deficit.
“What you saw in the fourth quarter and the latter part of the third quarter was a physical, hard-nosed football team. Their high-tempo offense turned into slow-it-down, milk it, and let’s get out of here as quickly as we can in the fourth quarter. If nothing else that says a lot about where our team has come,” ECU head coach Mike Houston said after the game.
There aren’t really moral victories in football, the game still registers as a loss for the Pirates on their schedule but it definitely showed some positive growth for the program from a year ago to now.
“I told them that they were going to be defined by how they responded after halftime. I’ll be honest that the old bunch, from early in this season and last year, it would have been a miserable second half. But that is not the way this bunch has been,” Houston said after the game.
“I’m disappointed in the first half and disappointed about the loss, there’s no doubt, but we are getting there.”
Coach Houston is absolutely correct here. Last season in ECU’s 37-10 loss at home against UCF, the Pirates actually got the good start and momentum they needed this weekend. ECU led 3-0 after one quarter but it didn’t take UCF long to string together a 20-0 second quarter to take a 20-3 lead into halftime. The Pirates folded after that, being outscored 17-7 in the second half, including 14-0 in the fourth quarter.
This year it was the complete opposite, as the Pirates dug a deep hole but then outplayed the Knights after halftime.
There were some bright spots individually for ECU as well. The defense played a stellar second half and linebacker Aaron Ramseur was a big part of that with 14 tackles to lead the way. There was also Kendall Futrell.
The senior defensive end continues to have a monster season and give ECU one of the best defenders in the American Athletic Conference for the second consecutive season. Futrell had a big game with five tackles, two sacks, and a forced fumble. That’s now seven sacks for Futrell in the last three games and he has simply been dominant.
On offense freshman wide receiver CJ Johnson. Johnson continues to separate himself as the top wide receiver and offensive target. He finished with eight catches for 106 yards. That’s back-to-back games of 100 receiving yards or more for Johnson and he consistently gets himself open for either a catch or to force a pass interference call on the defense.
Freshman running back Demetrius Mauney did well in his first start, recording his first career rushing touchdown and gaining 74 yards on the ground. Quarterback Holton Ahlers was much better in the second half than the first half, but then again so was the rest of the team pretty much.
Next up, ECU hosts a USF team coming off a big loss at the hands of Navy, who ECU loss big to earlier in the season. Both ECU and USF come in with 3-4 records.
(Photo courtesy of ecupirates.com)