Ahlers-led East Carolina routs SMU
Holton Ahlers tossed four touchdown passes, all in a runaway first half, as East Carolina capitalized on every opportunity presented prior to the intermission in their 52-38 victory over SMU at Greenville, N.C.
Ahlers completed 20 of 29 passes for 298 yards for the Pirates (3-6, 3-5 AAC). Blake Proehl caught six passes for 152 yards and two touchdowns.
East Carolina closed its pandemic-shortened season with a flourish, scoring on all seven of its first-half possessions. The Pirates utilized two trick plays to positive results and turned a pair of critical defensive stops into a 38-point halftime lead that left the Mustangs (7-3, 4-3) stunned.
The Pirates showed their hand early with a 25-yard Luke Larsen run on a fake punt, part of a 10-play, 80-yard march capped by a 9-yard scoring run from Keaton Mitchell for a 7-0 lead. Pirates safety Juan Powell later stuffed a fourth-down run by SMU at the East Carolina 34-yard line.
Following the Powell stop, Ahlers found Proehl for an 11-yard touchdown and the Pirates were off. The Pirates converted a fourth-and-1 prior to Proehl catching his second touchdown, this one covering 35 yards from receiver Tyler Snead for a 21-7 lead on the final snap of the first.
Pirates linebacker Jireh Wilson followed with a strip of Mustangs tight end Judah Bell and a 39-yard return to the SMU 32. Ahlers then closed the half with scoring passes to C.J. Johnson (14 yards), Mitchell (7) and Snead (16) as East Carolina carried a 45-7 lead into the break.
SMU fashioned a comeback in the second half with a Shane Buechele touchdown run, the first receiving touchdown of the season for freshman running back Ulysses Bentley IV and a 39-yard Tyler Page punt return that provided the Mustangs possession at the East Carolina 27.
But the Pirates prevented a third consecutive SMU touchdown when defensive tackle D’Anta Johnson sacked Buechele for a 12-yard loss on third down, forcing SMU to settle for a 36-yard Chris Naggar field goal on the final play of the third. The Pirates then mounted a five-play, 75-yard scoring march that culminated in a 2-yard touchdown run from Darius Pinnix and a 52-24 lead.
Tyler Lavine added two scoring runs that pulled SMU to within 14 points with 7:05 left, however, Ja’Quan McMillian picked off Buechele (314 yards, two touchdowns) twice late to snuff the rally.
–Field Level Media