Not only did the ECU Pirates win a game in a way you aren’t used to seeing from them on Saturday, but they were also able to win a game in a way they hadn’t in almost 10 years to the day.
The Pirates used great defense and scoring from kicker Jake Verity to defeat FCS William & Mary 19-7 on Saturday. It is their first win when scoring fewer than 20 points since beating UFC 19-14 on Sept. 26, 2009.
Through their first three games of the season, ECU has either won or lost in blowout fashion. Saturday’s home matchup was the first time that the game stayed close throughout the whole game, and the Pirates ground out an ugly win.
“I figured this game would be about like this. What we just talked about is would this team have won this game last year? I don’t know but this showed a lot of maturities and pulling for each other and sticking together because they never panicked on the sideline,” ECU head coach Mike Houston said.
Verity kept a struggling offense afloat by knocking down four field goals; a 31-yarder in the second quarter, a 33-yarder in the third, a 22-yarder in the fourth quarter and another 45-yarder in the final quarter. He also attempted a 55-yard field goal as the first half expired but missed that one.
The Pirates are now back at .500 with a 2-2 record through four weeks, with both wins coming against FCS teams this season after losing its previous two games against FCS opponents.
The home-field advantage was on full display as the announced crowd at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium was 38,094, the most since ECU’s 41-19 win over UNC last season. The crowd has helped, as the Pirates are 2-0 at home this season.
“We’re gonna win every home game this year,” Christian said.
ECU’s defense did its part as well. Davondre Robinson recorded an interception, the third of the year for the defense. They also came up with multiple stops on fourth down attempts, as the Tribe was 0-for-3 on fourth down. The Pirates held the Tribe to just 260 yards of total offense.
ECU was also able to win in ugly fashion because of the way it ran the ball. Tay Williams and Trace Christian both saw their first action of the season in the backfield as starting running back Darius Pinnix missed his second consecutive game due to injury.
Christian rushed 14 times for 91 yards and Williams added 71 yards on just five rushes. Quarterback Holton Ahlers also added 60 yards rushing despite losing 26 yards because of the three sacks he took.
The Pirates registered 270 yards on the ground as a team, which helped them win the time of possession battle 34:10 to 25:50.
“That is the style of team I want to be. Maybe some people want to see us throw it every down, but I just tell them that you are not going to make it the promised land throwing the ball 60 times a game. I just don’t believe in that,” Houston said.
That also helped offset an up-and-down performance from Ahlers at quarterback. Ahlers finished 20-of-34 passing for 210 yards and a touchdown. He didn’t throw an interception for the first time this season.
“The thing that he has to come along with is pre-snap decision-making and things like that. That is the only thing that frustrates us a little bit. It’s a new offense and a new coordinator, but I thought he played really well at times tonight and maybe the best he has played this year at times tonight,” Houston said.
His passing was spread among three receivers mainly, as Tyler Snead (five catches, 67 yards) CJ Johnson (five catches, 46 yards) and Blake Proehl (four catches, 51 yards) each had big games.
ECU actually got off to a great start, scoring on its first drive of the game with a 20-yard pass from Ahlers to tight end Anthony Watley.
Ahlers was 4-of-5 for 63 yards and the score on the first drive, with a QB rating over 120.
The score was significant for Watley, as ECU had just two TD catches by tight ends between 2015-2018, both by Steve Baggett in 2017.
They out-gained W&M 480-260 in total offense.
The Pirates travel to take on Old Dominion next Saturday before returning home to take on Temple.
(Photo courtesy of ecupirates.com)