East Carolina’s losses and margins of defeat are mounting. Midway through the 2018, ECU is starting to resemble its 2016 and 2017 back-to-back 3-9 seasons.
The Pirates (2-4, 0-3 AAC) have lost three of four with the latest being a conference loss to Houston on Oct. 13. The Pirates needed two fourth-quarter touchdowns against Houston’s backups to end the game 42-20. ECU has been outscored 111-39 in AAC games that also include losses to No. 20-ranked South Florida (20-13) and Temple (49-6).
“I thought last year when it came down (to this point in the season) we just gave up,” senior wide receiver Trevon Brown said. “I told Coach Mo, ‘We’re not running the ball or taking a knee; none of that. We’re going down to score. We finished the game the way we should have started the game.”
ECU’s players, who said at the beginning of the season that the team’s spirit was different this year, are still confident in coach Scottie Montgomery, who’s in his third season with the Pirates.
“We’re still holding together,” said sophomore free safety Davondre Robinson, who had six Houston tackles and ranks second on the team with 35. “We have very high confidence in our coaches. We’ve got a got a good chemistry. We’ve just got to believe and keep working hard like we’ve been doing.”
The Pirate’s upcoming games are tough ones. Three of the final six are opponents are ranked in the Top 25 and a fourth has a winning record.
Up next on Saturday for the Pirates is No. 9-ranked Central Florida (6-0, 3-0 AAC East), the conference’s defending champion that’s on a 19-game winning streak.
After a bye week, the Pirates on Nov. 3 host Memphis, which lost 31-30 to UCF on Oct. 13, before traveling to Tulane on Nov. 10. On Nov. 17, ECU plays Connecticut at home, and then travels to No. 20 Cincinnati on Nov. 23.
If No. 16 N.C. State doesn’t win the ACC’s Atlantic Division, the Pirates will then play the Wolfpack on Dec. 1.
Freshman quarterback Holton Ahlers will start the UCF game. He directed two fourth-quarter touchdowns against Houston that were the Pirates’ first in seven quarters. Ahlers hit Brown with a 13-yard touchdown toss to finish a 10-play, 96-yard drive, and scored on a 1-yard run to cap an eight-play, 62-yard possession.
Ahlers, who’s 6-3 and 236 pounds, was 11-of-18 for 137 yards and one score without an interception in relief of Reid Herring, a redshirt sophomore from Millbrook High. Herring was 26-of-42 for 229 yards without a touchdown. He threw two interceptions and fumbled the ball on a sack, which was then returned five yards for a touchdown in the third quarter.
Ahlers was playing in his fifth game, ending speculation the hometown favorite from D.H. Conley High could be redshirted for the remainder of 2018. The NCAA limits the number of games played for a redshirt at four.
Herring enthusiastic greeting of Ahlers on the sideline speaks to the midseason state of the team’s chemistry.
“We cheer each other whatever quarterback is in there,” said Herring on Saturday. “Our quarterback room is very close. Whenever someone succeeds, we’re all happy. That was a good moment for him.”
Players say it is a different locker room than a year ago, but the final record remains to be seen.