Nov 19, 2022; Greenville, North Carolina, USA;  East Carolina Pirates running back Keaton Mitchell (2) runs with the ball against the Houston Cougars during the first half at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

East Carolina looking to regain momentum at Temple

East Carolina and Temple meet in their regular-season finale Saturday at Philadelphia with both coming off losses to American Athletic Conference foes.

East Carolina (6-5, 3-4 AAC) won three straight games to become bowl eligible, including a win at BYU, before losing 27-25 at Cincinnati.

The Pirates were routed 42-3 at home by Houston last week.

“We just didn’t have a good day,” said quarterback Holton Ahlers, who completed 15 of 30 passes for 182 yards. “Pretty much everything that could have went wrong went wrong. It was a tough one. I would have done anything to win that game.”

Keaton Mitchell gained a career-high 128 yards on 14 carries but it wasn’t enough as East Carolina was forced to punt six times.

Temple (3-8, 1-6) lost 23-3 at home against Cincinnati last week after succumbing 43-36 the week before at Houston.

The Owls were beset by four turnovers against the Bearcats.

Cincinnati controlled the time of possession 36:51 to 23:09.

Temple, which had 202 yards of total offense, was led defensively by linebacker Layton Jordan. He had 2.5 sacks to increase his season total to nine.

“We’ve just got to address the offense’s production, or lack thereof, and rally the troops and see if we can get that fixed this week for our last game, especially for our seniors,” Temple coach Stan Drayton said. “When you play against a good team like Cincinnati, you just can’t have turnovers and the mistakes that we made.”

Ahlers has 3,094 passing yards, eighth most in a single season in East Carolina history.

Mitchell has produced five-straight 100-yard performances, seven this season overall and 13 for his career.

He surpassed 1,000 yards this season (with 1,103), becoming the first Pirate since Tay Cooper (2012-13) to record consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.

Temple quarterback E.J. Warner has thrown for 2,501 yards, with 223 completions in 380 attempts, which are all school freshman records. He ranks sixth, fourth and sixth, respectively, in Temple’s single-season records in those categories.

–Field Level Media

Memphis Tigers quarterback Seth Henigan (5) keeps hold of the ball as North Texas Mean Green defensive tackle Roderick Brown (10) and North Texas Mean Green defensive lineman Fatafehi Vailea (51) guard him during a Memphis Tigers game against the North Texas Mean Green on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, at Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium in Memphis. Memphis defeated North Texas 44-34.

Memphis, ECU look to bounce back in AAC tilt

The Memphis Tigers and host East Carolina Pirates are both looking for a bounce-back win when they meet Saturday in an American Athletic Conference game in Greenville, N.C.

The Tigers (4-2, 2-1) ended a four-game winning streak by squandering a 19-point fourth-quarter lead last Friday, giving up two touchdowns in the final 1:17 in a 33-32 loss to Houston.

East Carolina (3-3, 1-2) fell to Tulane 24-9 on Saturday, with the Green Wave scoring the game’s final 17 points after the Pirates took a 9-7 first-half lead.

“Nobody’s happy with us being 4-2 right now,” Memphis coach Ryan Silverfield said. “I’m not happy with our record because we can be better.

“I can come up here and mope around — ‘Oh, woe is me.’ No. It’s got to be, ‘How do we get better? How do we learn from this and how do we fix this?’”

Memphis can start by not allowing 366 passing yards and three touchdowns through the air and giving up a 100-yard kickoff return, which really launched Houston’s big comeback last week.

The Tigers have been much better offensively, with Seth Henigan completing 63.6 percent of his passes for 1,517 yards with 10 touchdowns and just one interception. Three running backs have netted more than 200 yards, with Brandon Thomas scoring seven touchdowns. Tight end Caden Prieskorn has six touchdown receptions as one of four players with at least 19 catches.

East Carolina started 2-1 but has lost two of its past three games. The Pirates are coming off their lowest-scoring output of the season and are looking for quarterback Holton Ahlers to get back on track.

Ahlers’ 1,820 passing yards rank 10th in FBS and his 16 TDs are tied for sixth, in FBS. He has been intercepted six times.

“You know, we’re 3-3 at the halfway point and we have really good football teams on our schedule the rest of the time,” Ahlers said. “I know in that locker room, there’s a lot of guys that care.”

Last year, East Carolina edged Memphis 30-29 in overtime, but the Tigers have won two of the past three meetings, including a 59-41 win in their last trip to Greenville in 2018.

–Field Level Media

Memphis Tigers quarterback Seth Henigan throws the ball during their game against the SMU Mustangs at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium on Saturday Nov. 6, 2021.

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Memphis, East Carolina jockey for bowl eligibility in AAC matchup

Consider Saturday’s American Athletic Conference contest between East Carolina and Memphis to be the “bowl eligibility bowl.”

With both teams owning 5-4 records, the winner of the afternoon game at Memphis will become bowl eligible with two games still left to play.

So while neither team will likely make an appearance in the conference championship game, there will definitely be a lot to play for.

“They all know it,” East Carolina head coach Mike Houston said. “Trust and believe me, they all know it. Everybody in Greenville knows it. You have to take care of the game that is ahead of you. Memphis is good. We have to go there for an early kickoff, and they just knocked off a ranked SMU team.”

Indeed, Memphis did, as the Tigers earned a 28-25 home upset last week over SMU behind a good defensive performance and the return of starting quarterback Seth Henigan.

The Tigers (5-4, 2-3 AAC) held SMU to a season-low 323 yards and saw Henigan go 34-of-53 passing for 392 yards and two touchdowns in his return from a shoulder injury.

Memphis is looking to become bowl eligible for an eighth straight year.

“Our guys continue to believe, they continue to work, and they continue to do things the right way,” Memphis head coach Ryan Silverfield said. “Sometimes, you just want to see it show up on the field. Nobody is happy with our record, and ultimately that starts with me and the things we wanted to get fixed and corrected. We are still a work in progress. One game is not going to define us.”

On the other side, East Carolina (5-4, 3-2) is looking to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2014.

The Pirates are coming off a 45-3 rout of Temple at home, led by quarterback Holton Ahlers, who is completing 60.6 percent of his passes this year for 2,179 yards and 14 touchdowns.

–Field Level Media

Oct 9, 2021; Orlando, Florida, USA; East Carolina Pirates quarterback Holton Ahlers (12) runs the ball against East Carolina Pirates safety Jonathan Coleman II (37) during the first quarter at Bounce House. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

Temple, needing wins to rescue bowl hopes, faces East Carolina

Temple will hope to avoid a fourth consecutive loss when it battles East Carolina on Saturday in Greenville, S.C.

Since defeating Memphis 34-31 on Oct. 2, the Owls (3-5, 1-3 American Athletic Conference) were blitzed 52-3 by then-No. 5 Cincinnati, 34-14 by South Florida and then 49-7 by UCF last week.

“Penalties and turnovers and bad situational football certainly put the score where it was,” Temple coach Rod Carey said of the latest defeat.

Temple’s rushing defense has been an issue all season, especially in the three consecutive losses. The Owls surrendered 199 rushing yards to the Knights.

“We had one starting secondary guy out there,” Carey said. “We aren’t going to use that as an excuse, though.”

One of Temple’s goals this season was to qualify for a bowl game. For that to happen, the Owls would have to finish at least 6-6.

Reaching a bowl game would be a major long shot with a loss to the Pirates.

“We’re just going to take them one at a time and again, we will count them up and see where we are at,” Carey said.

East Carolina will be looking for its second straight win when it hosts Temple.

The Pirates (4-4, 2-2) defeated South Florida 29-14 on Oct. 28, outscoring the Bulls 23-0 in the second half.

The fact that the win came on a Thursday gave East Carolina some extra preparation time heading into the upcoming game.

“It was good to get a little bit of extra rest for the kids and get a little bit more work on Temple,” East Carolina coach Mike Houston said. “We feel good going into this week, got to have a great week of practice. A big ballgame for our program Saturday. Temple is a very dangerous opponent and we’re going to have to play very, very well.”

Pirates quarterback Holton Ahlers continues to improve. He threw for 220 yards and a touchdown while also running for a season-best 78 yards on 11 carries against the Bulls.

“I thought he made really, really good decisions,” Houston said. “I don’t know if there’s a decision I really questioned that he made. I thought he was very decisive of where to go with the football. I thought he put us in good situations. I really thought, mentally, he played his best game of the year.”

–Field Level Media

Sep 25, 2021; Provo, Utah, USA; South Florida Bulls running back Jaren Mangham (0) reacts to the Brigham Young Cougars fans after his touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Brigham Young Cougars at LaVell Edwards Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Against South Florida, ECU to focus on running with the Bulls

When South Florida squares off with American Athletic Conference foe East Carolina on Thursday, the Bulls will be cruising on a wave of enthusiasm they have not felt recently: The joy from a significant win.

USF (2-5, 1-2) earned its first triumph over an FBS school in 728 days Saturday at home when it mauled Temple 34-14 by rushing for a school-record 421 yards.

That single-game rushing high featured banner showings from a backfield of Jaren Mangham, Kelley Joiner and Brian Battie, after starting quarterback Timmy McClain was injured late in the first half.

Mangham rushed 26 times for 152 yards and two scores, Joiner 14 times for 126 yards and a touchdown and Battie 12 times for 77 yards.

The Bulls toted it 73 times at a 5.8 yards-per-carry clip. They held possession for 44:35 — also a team record.

“This would have been a nice win at any point in the season,” said second-year coach Jeff Scott, whose previous two victories were against The Citadel and Florida A&M of the FCS. “But coming off that game last week, that was the toughest week I had in a long, long time in my career.”

In that one against Tulsa, the Bulls squandered an 11-point fourth-quarter lead and lost 32-31 on a last-minute TD.

Meanwhile, the Pirates (3-4, 1-2) rallied for two late scores in regulation but eventually dropped a 31-24 decision in overtime to Houston.

The weather-interrupted contest at Houston was set to begin at 3 p.m. local time and finished close to midnight after two delays.

ECU’s Holton Ahlers — fourth in the AAC with 1,763 passing yards — was 23-of-37 for 278 yards and two TDs.

The Pirates outgained the Cougars 360-256 and held them scoreless in the second half.

“I think it continues to show the growth of the program,” said ECU coach Mike Houston of his defense. “I don’t know what we were, 110th or 112th or something like that when I got here. They improve every single week. … I think anybody can see the growth. It’s just frustrating to not get the wins.”

At 49th nationally, USF’s rushing attack grinds out 183.1 yards per game, while the Pirates’ run defense surrenders 143.7 yards and ranks 57th.

The Pirates have won just two of the 11 meetings between the schools but were victorious 44-24 last season in Tampa.

–Field Level Media

Sep 2, 2021; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; East Carolina Pirates running back Keaton Mitchell (25) outruns the Appalachian State Mountaineers defense for a score during the first quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Streaking East Carolina visits reeling UCF

East Carolina, riding high on its first three-game winning streak since 2014, is set to visit UCF in an American Athletic Conference game at Orlando on Saturday.

East Carolina (3-2, 1-0) won just five of its first 19 games under coach Mike Houston, but things started to turn around at the end of last season, and the Pirates are now 5-2 in their past seven games, including 3-0 against conference foes.

Pirates running back Keaton Mitchell leads the nation in yards per carry (9.6), and is sixth nationally in rushing yards (574). He has four touchdowns this season, including two on Saturday in East Carolina’s 52-29 win over Tulane.

Mitchell had 222 yards on just 15 carries against Tulane, exciting his teammates with his long-distance runs.

“I was running down there (on the sideline), almost getting a penalty,” East Carolina safety Warren Saba said of his reaction to Mitchell’s runs of 68 and 30 yards. “He’s a great player for our team.”

Mitchell has had a positive effect on ECU quarterback Holton Ahlers, who is fourth in the AAC in passing yards (1,266).

“Anytime you can just hand the ball off and score, it makes it easy for me,” said Ahlers, who is averaging 253 passing yards a game. “Once he gets past five yards, it’s hard to catch him. He’s a special talent.”

Meanwhile, the Knights (2-2, 0-1) have lost two straight games in rather shocking fashion.

On Sept. 17, UCF was tied with Louisville when Knights quarterback Dillon Gabriel threw a pick-six with just 13 seconds remaining, resulting in a 42-35 Cardinals win.

The Knights then tried a multi-lateral final play during which Gabriel suffered what is likely a season-ending broken left clavicle.

Last Saturday, UCF — playing with true freshman quarterback Mikey Keene — built a 30-17 lead over Navy after three quarters, but then allowed 17 fourth-quarter points in a 34-30 defeat.

“Those weren’t just losses,” UCF coach Gus Malzahn said. “Those were two really tough losses.”

Keene, who went 23-0 as a high school quarterback in Arizona, is a mobile, 5-11, 180-pounder. He completed 16 of 26 passes for 178 yards, two touchdowns and one interception against Navy.

“Mikey handled himself well,” Malzahn said. “He knew what he was reading. He protected the football, which you worry about with a freshman.”

UCF has won five straight games in this annual series, and the Pirates have been unable to stop the Knights. UCF has outscored ECU by an average score of 48-23.

But this appears to be a much-improved East Carolina team, starting with Ahlers.

“He has made 30 starts, and he’s very impressive,” Malzahn said of the 6-foot-3, 230-pound ECU quarterback. “Their running back (Mitchell) is one of the most explosive in our league. And their defense leads the league in interceptions and tackles for losses.

“East Carolina is a very good team. They played South Carolina close (losing 20-17), and they have momentum.”

–Field Level Media

Sep 4, 2021; Annapolis, Maryland, USA; Marshall Thundering Herd running back Rasheen Ali (22) celebrates with  tight end Devin Miller (83) and tight end Xavier Gaines (11) after scoring a first half touchdown against the Navy Midshipmen  at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Marshall looks for 3-0 start against East Carolina

Marshall and East Carolina both had varying degrees of expectations for 2021. Yet only one is finding success early on this season.

The Thundering Herd can record their second straight 3-0 start by keeping the visiting Pirates winless on Saturday night in a nonconference meeting in Huntington, W.Va.

Marshall (2-0, 0-0 Conference USA) has successfully ushered in the Charles Huff coaching era by outscoring Navy and North Carolina Central 93-17. Quarterback Grant Wells has completed 70.1 percent of his passes for 680 yards with three touchdowns and one interception and Corey Gammage has already recorded 14 receptions over the first two games.

Defensively, the Herd held consecutive opponents to 10 or fewer points for the first time since the 1999 season. Yet, Huff has offered a certain amount of coach-speak in trying to keep his team focused. And poised to, at the very least, repeat as C-USA East Division champions and avoid a third consecutive bowl defeat.

“Don’t look at the results, it’s not about the results,” Huff said. “It’s about how we play. So, if we can continue to get better, play better, the results will take care of themselves.

“There’s a lot to get cleaned up, for sure … I have high expectations for this football team.”

East Carolina coach Mike Houston also has “pretty high expectations, internally,” for his program, which last enjoyed a winning season and reached a bowl game in 2014. However, the Pirates (0-2, 0-0 American Athletic Conference) are in danger of their first 0-3 start since 2017 after losing to Appalachian State and South Carolina by a combined 17 points.

ECU led 14-0 against the Gamecocks last weekend and held the visitors to 106 rushing yards, but ultimately lost 20-17 on a 36-yard South Carolina field goal as time expired.

“Those are the games that you’ve got to learn how to win,” Houston said. “If anything, I think everybody sees the kind of heart this bunch has. They’re going to fight. We’re going to show up (at Marshall). We’re going to play.”

Receiver Jsi Hatfield has been East Carolina’s big-play threat early on with five receptions for 141 yards and a touchdown. Three of the Pirates’ four touchdowns this season have been of 38 yards or more.

This will be the first meeting between the teams since Marshall’s 59-28 victory on Nov. 29, 2013.

Members of Marshall’s 1971 “Young Thundering Herd” team will be on hand in celebration of the program’s 50th anniversary of football following the 1970 plane crash that claimed the lives of all players, coaches, staff and supporters on board.

–Field Level Media

Sep 11, 2021; Greenville, North Carolina, USA;  South Carolina Gamecocks quarterback Zeb Noland (8) throws the ball during the first half against the East Carolina Pirates at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

South Carolina down East Carolina 20-17 on FG as clock expires

Parker White’s tiebreaking 36-yard field goal on the final play was the difference Saturday as South Carolina rallied from a two-touchdown deficit to beat East Carolina 20-17 in Greenville, N.C.

The kick was the senior’s sixth game-winning boot of his career and ended a 54-yard drive in 10 plays.

South Carolina (2-0, 0-0 SEC) quarterback Zeb Noland — a grad assistant who was a feel-good story last week in his return to action for his third school — went 13-of-24 for 189 yards and a TD pass to Dakereon Joyner with one interception.

Josh Vann caught five passes for a game-high 91 yards, Damani Staley scored on an interception and Darius Rush picked off a pass for the Gamecocks, who won their fifth straight against ECU and are 15-5 in the series.

Pirates (0-2, 0-0 AAC) quarterback Holton Ahlers was 11-of-24 for 77 yards and rushed for a touchdown but tossed two interceptions.

Warren Saba recorded an interception and D.J. Ford recovered a fumble that set up a short score.

In motion on the first play from scrimmage, wide receiver Tyler Snead took a handoff from Ahlers, went wide and tossed a long pass to an open Jsi Hatfield, who hauled in the catch and ran for a career-long 75-yard reception.

After Jeremy Lewis’ forced fumble was grabbed by Ford in the second quarter, Ahlers called his own number two plays later to put the Pirates up 14-0 at 11:53.

However, the Gamecocks broke through in the half’s last minute by pressuring Ahlers, resulting in linebacker Staley’s interception and 63-yard run to cut the halftime deficit to 14-7.

South Carolina went 72 yards in five plays, ending with Noland’s 13-yard scoring strike to Joyner to tie the game at 14 in the third.

In the fourth quarter, ECU’s Owen Daffer (26-yard field goal) and White (39 yards) traded successful kicks before White’s game winner.

–Field Level Media

Nov 28, 2020; Greenville, North Carolina, USA; East Carolina Pirates quarterback Holton Ahlers (12) waits for the snap against the Southern Methodist Mustangs at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Appalachian State, East Carolina clash in neutral-site affair

As far as East Carolina coach Mike Houston is concerned, it’s time for his team to play a game.

“They are ready to face another opponent,” he said. “It was a successful camp and scrimmages from the standpoint that we know what we have and where we are. We have places that will be our strength, but everybody is just excited to move on to our opening opponent.”

That would be Appalachian State, which the Pirates meet on Thursday night in a neutral site game in Charlotte, N.C. And how they play against the Mountaineers might shed light on how far their rebuilding project is under Houston, their third-year coach.

East Carolina is 7-14 under Houston, including a 3-6 mark in a pandemic-shortened 2020 season. While the American Athletic Conference’s preseason poll predicts it will tie Navy for eighth, internal expectations call for success. The Pirates return a whopping 20 starters, 10 of them on offense.

One of those 10 is quarterback Holton Ahlers, who in 25 career starts has thrown for 7,093 yards and 51 touchdowns.

“It’s refreshing to have the experience coming back that we do have from the guys that played so much last year,” Houston said. “We are bigger, stronger, faster and in better shape.”

Meanwhile, Appalachian State is coming off a 9-3 season under Shawn Clark, making him the only first-year FBS coach to reach nine victories. The Mountaineers return 85 percent of their lettermen, including 17 starters and 14 “super seniors” who opted to come back for a fifth year of eligibility due to COVID-19 rules passed by the NCAA.

What’s more, Appalachian State wasn’t far off from winning 10 or 11 games. Two of its three losses were to Top 25 teams from the suddenly good Sun Belt Conference (Coastal Carolina, Louisiana) and its third loss was to a Marshall team that spent several weeks in the Top 25 later in the year.

“A lot of things to be excited about this season,” Clark said. “Our guys had a great summer. … We look really good.”

The big question is at quarterback, where Zac Thomas has graduated after accounting for 8,281 total yards in his career and going 32-6 as a starter. Chase Brice, who threw for 2,170 yards last year at Duke, is the likely replacement.

–Field Level Media

Nov 13, 2020; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; East Carolina Pirates quarterback Holton Ahlers (12) snaps the ball against the Cincinnati Bearcats in the first half at Nippert Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Pirates wrap up shortened season with visit from SMU

SMU had been one of a small group of programs largely unaffected by the coronavirus pandemic, both from an in-house and scheduling perspective. That was until last weekend.

For the first time since their nonconference matchup against TCU was postponed Sept. 11, the Mustangs had their schedule interrupted when their American Athletic Conference game against Houston was rescheduled for Dec. 5, a result of COVID-19 issues within the Cougars’ program.

SMU played eight games over a nine-week stretch prior to the postponement with the Cougars, and the Mustangs (7-2, 4-2 American) will travel to East Carolina (2-6, 2-5) on Saturday to face the Pirates at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium feeling something foreign: rejuvenated after a week off.

“I think this time of year everybody’s beat up and from a physical standpoint we definitely were,” Mustangs coach Sonny Dykes said. “But I think probably as much as anything else mentally we were a little fatigued and a little tired. If you go back and look at our schedule really since our guys reported, we haven’t had consecutive days off since August sometime. And the reason we haven’t is we didn’t want our players to go home.

“I felt like from the very beginning if we could keep them together and keep them around people who were being tested, that would increase the likelihood of being able to play games and keep guys healthy. So that’s been our approach: we haven’t had a lot of days off.”

Once the Houston postponement was announced, Dykes lightened the midweek practice load, allowing the Mustangs time to regroup before resuming practice over the weekend. On Sunday, the Mustangs followed a morning weightlifting session with an afternoon practice, and Dykes was pleased with the way the players approached the workload, recognizing the benefit of rest.

The Mustangs had suffered a disappointing 28-24 loss at Tulsa the previous Saturday. Getting an extra week to recover could prove beneficial as SMU prepares for the closing stretch.

“I think our guys are in a lot better spot than they were at this time last week,” Dykes said. “Both mentally and physically.”

East Carolina had its first three games of the season wiped out. A bout with South Carolina was canceled when the SEC settled on a conference-only schedule. Nonconference games with Marshall and Norfolk State were taken off the books thanks to COVID-19 issues.

As a result, East Carolina will play its regular-season finale against the Mustangs. That fact would seem anomalous, but given everything that has unfolded across the country, the Pirates are taking that reality in stride.

It certainly helps that East Carolina snapped a four-game losing skid with its 28-3 road win over Temple last weekend. With Senior Day at hand, the Pirates are aiming to carry the momentum of their previous contest through this weekend and to end the year on a high.

“That was my message to the team Sunday,” Pirates coach Mike Houston said. “There’s no doubt they feel the exact same way. You want to finish the season strong and put together a complete ball game. We did that a little bit against South Florida and Tulsa. There were some strong phases against Navy and Temple. As far as everything clicking in all three phases, we haven’t done that this year.

“That was a big thing I talked to them about Sunday. I promise you that they want to.”

–Field Level Media