Isaiah Jones apparently likes playing in the state of Florida. Blake Kemp doesn’t seem to mind, either. Winning makes it even better.
Jones, a junior receiver, had another big game in the Sunshine State on Thursday night as the Pirates made easy time of Central Florida in a 44-7 rout at Bright House Networks Stadium.
“Yeah, I do. I love Florida,” Jones laughed after the Pirates racked up 605 yards of offense and snapped a three-game losing skid.
Jones teamed up with junior quarterback Blake Kemp to dice up a Central Florida defense that has had an abysmal season. Jones, who caught 14 passes in a tough loss at Florida this season, caught 13 passes for a career-high 164 yards and two touchdowns against Central Florida.
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“It’s huge, man,” Kemp said of Jones. “He’s just a guy that you know when you throw him the ball there’s a good chance he’ll come down with it and make a play and it’s awesome to have him out there on our team.”
Kemp passed for 448 yards and four touchdowns, also career bests, as East Carolina piled on the lowly Knights (0-11, 0-6 American Athletic).
“Blake did a great job and I felt like our preparation showed,” Jones said. “Coaches put us in a position to make plays and our offensive line did a good job of blocking.”
The makeshift line might have been the most impressive part of the Pirates’ performance. With three starters out, the line show no signs of missing a beat.
“That’s a huge credit to coach Brad Davis, who does a great job with those guys. I think he’s one of the best coaches in the nation,” Jones said of the offensive line coach.
Kemp, who sat out the Pirates’ last game, had all the time he needed as the offensive line built a barrier around him. Kemp picked apart a pass defense that ranked No. 98 in the nation.
“It felt good to be back out there on the field and the O-line did great job of protecting so that really helped me go through my reads,” Kemp said. “I had a lot of fun out there tonight.”
The Knights didn’t have an answer on the ground, either, as East Carolina running back Chris Hairston carved up the run defense (ranked No. 97 overall) for 123 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries.
Central Florida was ranked No. 103 in total defense coming in, giving up 449 yards a game. East Carolina eclipsed that number during the first three quarters (573 yards).
The Knights gave the few fans who did show up Thursday some early optimism. They took just three minutes to go 71 yards to start the game. Tre’Quan Smith capped the drive with an 11-yard touchdown catch from Justin Holman to provide an early 7-0 lead.
That was short-lived. East Carolina came out firing with Kemp connecting on his first four passes. The Pirates’ hurry-up offense moved the ball quickly down the field and Kemp capped the 81-yard drive with a 19-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Bishop.
Jones caught two passes on the opening series to give him 35 straight games with at least one reception, and it was only a precursor of what was to come.
By halftime, Jones had six catches for 109 yards and a touchdown, Kemp had thrown for 260 yards and three touchdowns and Hairston had 76 yards and another score to give East Carolina a 31-7 lead.
The final numbers could have been worse. Jones had two touchdown passes, one for 67 yards and one for 18, called back because of penalties, as did Hairston on a 50-yard second-half run.
“I’m proud of (Jones). He got a chance to get his hands on the ball tonight,” East Carolina coach Ruff McNeill said of Jones. “We know our skill set is talented. (Jones) did a great job of catching it and getting vertical … (Jones) is one of those players who leads by example.”
The Pirates (5-6, 3-4) have one game remaining, a home date Nov. 28 with Cincinnati. A victory over the Bearcats (6-4, 3-3), who will play Friday night at South Florida, would make the Pirates bowl eligible.
“There’s the left-hand column and the right-hand column, and I’m just glad to get one in the left-hand column,” McNeill said of the victory. “We’ll just get ready for the next one. There’s more than 24 hours this time though. We won’t think about Cincinnati until Sunday.”