East Carolina University (0-2, 0-0-0 American Athletic Conference) battled with the University of South Carolina (2-0-0, 0-0-0 Southeastern Conference) on Sept. 11 but after a 14 point lead, lost 20-17 with zero seconds left on the clock.
The game took place at noon as the Pirates hosted its first home game of the season at the Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. ECU started junior quarterback Holton Ahlers while USC had graduate student Zeb Noland. According to graduate student safety D.J. Ford, the home atmosphere helped keep the Pirates in the game throughout.
“It felt great. The fans definitely made a difference, I could definitely feel their energy. We fed off them a lot,” Ford said. “We were engaging with the fans a lot you know and trying to get the crowd into it but they did their part.”
The Pirates defensive side kept them in the game throughout all four quarters. While USC was able to shut out Eastern Illinois University (0-3-0, 0-0-0 National Collegiate Athletic Association Ohio Valley Conference Football) 46-0, ECU was able to hold the Gamecocks to 20 points. Ford ended with six tackles, junior linebacker Xavier Smith ended with eight while he also shared a sack with senior linebacker Bruce Bivens.
The game began quickly as the Pirates were able to run a play that resulted in a pass from sophomore wide receiver Tyler Snead to sophomore wide receiver Jsi Hatfield. With 15 minutes still on the clock, the Pirates were already up 7-0. Throughout the game, the Pirates defense remained strong as the team was able to hold the Gamecocks to limited drives the whole game, which began in the first quarter.
“The defense played as well as they’ve played since I’ve been here,” Ahlers said. “If the defense continues to play like that then we’ve got a really good team. We just gotta put the offense together and that starts with me.”
Before USC was able to get on the board, the Pirate offensive line was able to protect Ahlers as he ran into the endzone for a 3-yard rushing touchdown to take the score to 14-0 to start off the second quarter.
The Pirates defense continued to work and stopped the Gamecocks on three more drives but as the Pirates drove down the field to close the half, Ahlers threw a pass that landed in USC’s redshirt freshman running back Damani Staley, who then ran a 63-yard touchdown to close the half 14-7.
The third quarter consisted of both teams trading possession as they tried to get down the field and into the endzone. On the Gamecocks’ fourth possession of the quarter, they were able to get into the endzone with a 23-yard pass but was overturned as an incomplete pass. 13 seconds later, USC saw the endzone again as Nolad connected with redshirt junior wide receiver Dakereon Joyner to tie up the game 14-14 with 46 seconds left in the quarter.
With a tie game to begin the fourth quarter, neither team scored a touchdown for the rest of the game but exchanged field goals to bring an end to the game. After multiple drives from both teams, ECU got in a 26-yard field goal from redshirt freshman placekicker Owen Daffer with 8:46 left and USC redshirt senior placekicker Parker White got a 39-yard field goal two minutes later.
ECU had one more possession of the ball to attempt to drive it down the field but then left the Gamecocks with almost five minutes to score. After the drive, when the clock read 00:03, USC set up on the ECU as White attempted and achieved a 36-yard field goal to bring the clock to 00:00 and the score to 20-17.
“The kids are hurting pretty good. The kids played their tails off. I’m very proud of the way we competed, very proud of the physicality and intensity,” head coach Mike Houston said. “They gave us a chance to win in the fourth quarter and I thought we had it but it just didn’t go our way.”
As the Pirates continue the season and strive for its first win, the team will travel to Huntington, West Virginia to verse Marshall University (2-0-0, 0-0-0 Conference USA) in a 6 p.m. match. The game will take place on Sept. 18 and will be shown on CBSSN and also broadcast on 107.9 WNCT-FM.
The last time these two teams played, Marshall came out on top with a 59-28 win on Nov. 29, 2013. In these two teams' histories, the Pirates have tallied up six wins compared to the Bisons three.
“I think everybody sees the kind of hearts this bunch has. They’re going to fight. We’re gonna show up next week,” Houston said. “We’re gonna play, we’ve got pretty high expectations internally. The kids have worked their tails off.”