ECU defeated Gardner-Webb 48-9 on Saturday in the 2019 home opener at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. It gave head coach Mike Houston his first win at ECU.
The temptation is to roll your eyes when a team that has been pretty bad the last few seasons puts together a good performance against a lesser opponent. But all things considered, this should be something to bask in, at least at the moment, for ECU fans.
“(This is) Obviously a lot more enjoyable night tonight than last Saturday. You get in these ballgames, your home opener, and you have all these visions of how it’s supposed to go. It’s very refreshing when your team comes out and plays the way you know they can. We made a ton of mistakes, there’s no doubt. We have tons of things to correct, but I thought our guys really played hard,” Houston said per ecupirates.com
First, ECU’s (1-1) success in the game is easy to point at. The Pirates totaled 365 rushing yards: 134 from Darius Pinnix on 21 carries, 107 from Demetrius Mauney on 13 carries, and 78 from Holton Ahlers on 10 attempts, respectively.
This was the first time ECU’s running attack had worked in a long time. Remember, they only managed 41 yards on 29 carries on the ground in the 34-6 loss to NC State in the season opener.
For more context, if you add up the rushing yards from ECU’s 2018 losses against North Carolina A&T, Houston, NC State, Cincinnati, and Temple you get only 299 rushing yards.
But in ECU’s three 2018 wins, they recorded 415 rushing yards against UConn, 220 against UNC and 179 against Old Dominion, respectively.
When Ahlers ran seven yards for a score early in the first quarter to make it 7-0, it must have felt great to score a touchdown for the first time since the Cincinnati game toward the end of the 2018 season. From there, the dam broke loose and ECU played as they were supposed to.
“We wanted to be able to run the football effectively early in the game, take control of the ballgame. We wanted to try to force them to try to throw the ball. I thought we were able to do that. I really did think our play on the two lines of scrimmage were truly the difference in the ballgame,” Houston said per ecupirates.com
Gerard Stringer and Ja’Quan McMillian each recorded an interception, a great sight for a team that hasn’t forced enough turnovers in the past few down seasons.
It was a great time for Mike Houston to get his first win as ECU’s head coach. His father Bill passed away on Tuesday and he spent Thursday in his hometown of Franklin for the funeral. Houston had to lean on his coaching staff big-time to prepare the team this week. Surely that felt great for coach Houston to get a win at that time, maybe more so than any other regular win.
“He would have found something we could have done better; I promise you that. He always had something we could do better. But he was always proud of the way our teams competed. When I think back to growing up, that was the thing he tried to teach me. No matter what you’re always going to go out and compete. And I think he would have been proud of our team tonight and the way they competed,” Houston said per ecupirates.com
Sure, it was against FCS foe Gardner-Webb. ECU was the much better football team on talent alone. The Pirates were favored to win the game by 28 points and still managed to blow past that by winning by 39.
But coach Houston reminded us last week that ECU hadn’t seen much success against FCS teams in recent history. They had lost two in a row, James Houston in 2017 and North Carolina A&T in 2018. This is after ECU as a program had won 25 games in a row against FCS teams before that. The program had fallen so far as to not even being able to safely guarantee victory against FCS teams.
Yes, ECU was supposed to beat Gardner-Webb as badly as they did and so in that aspect, nothing much was accomplished. But seeing the offense and defense work as well as they did, even against a lesser opponent, could be something that gives the players some momentum to work on going into their matchup with Navy.
But as we’ve seen how bad things have gotten with three consecutive 3-9 seasons, it’s alright for ECU fans to feel good about things going the way they were supposed to against Gardner-Webb in the home opener. As coach Houston said himself “It’s very refreshing when your team comes out and plays the way you know they can.” So for the week at least, be refreshed Pirate Nation.