Keaton Mitchell

Freshman running back Keaton Mitchell finds a hole on a run against Cincinnati.

The East Carolina University football team (1-6, 1-5 American Athletic Conference) was defeated by the University of Cincinnati (7-0, 6-0 American Athletic Conference) 55-17.

ECU was written in as 28-point underdogs against the undefeated Bearcats who came into the game ranked at No. 7 in the country by ESPN and the AP standings.

“Certainly we were aggressive with some things, and tried to come in to play the game in order to win it,” head coach Mike Houston said. “I’m disappointed in the outcome though. And let me say this: my players, I still believe in them.”

The opening drive for the Pirates ended in a three and out, but the Bearcats, after they began their drive at their own 21-yard line, drove down the field at will for the first score of the game. A 10-play opening drive for Cincinnati ended in a 33-yard touchdown strike from junior quarterback Desmond Ridder to junior wide receiver Michael Young Jr.

Neither team would score for the rest of the first quarter, but the Bearcats would come close on their second drive. Cincinnati drove down the field from their own 15 yark line and looked like they would make it into the endzone but Ridder fumbled the ball on the Pirates’ three yard line, which was recovered by graduate student Chris Willis.

The Pirates would not be able to capitalize on the turnover as on the first play of the second quarter junior quarterback Holton Ahlers would throw a pick six. Ahlers looked to target graduate student wide receiver Audie Omotosho on a slant route on a third and four, but senior linebacker Jarell White jumped the route and ran untouched into the endzone.

After forcing a Cincinatti three and out, the Pirates were able to get their first score of the game after freshman running back Keaton Mitchell scored on an 18-yard touchdown run after touching the ball for all three plays of the drive. Starting on their own 42-yard line, Mitchell had a 14-yard rush, a 26-yard reception, and capped off the drive with his 18-yard rushing score.

Cincinnati would respond with a touchdown of their own with 8:23 remaining in the first half. Freshman running back Jerome Ford ran in a 24-yard run to push it back to a two score lead at 21-7. ECU made it closer on its next drive with a 32-yard field goal by senior kicker Jake Verity.

The Bearcats would further extend their lead after a 45-yard touchdown pass from Ridder to sophomore wide receiver Tre Tucker. The next drive by the Pirates ended in three plays after Ahlers was picked off again, this time by senior safety James Wiggins, which set Cincinatti up at their own 47-yard line.

It wouldn’t take long for Cincinnati to capitalize on the Ahlers turnover. Seven plays after the interception Ridder would run the ball in for a 7-yard touchdown, making it a 35-10 ball game, which would remain the score going into halftime.

Neither team would score almost the entire third quarter as not one team could muster up a drive. It wasn’t until there were 29 seconds left in the quarter that Cincinatti would score to further extend its lead. On a drive that started at their own 15 yard line, the Bearcats would drive down the field, and on play 12 of the drive, Ridder hit junior wide receiver Jayshon Jackson for a 22-yard touchdown pass.

The Pirates looked like they were going to respond. Starting on their own 16-yard line, the Pirates orchestrated their longest drive of the game, which went all the way to the Cincinnati 16-yard line where they faced a fourth and five.

However, Ahlers threw his third interception of the game, which was intercepted by a third different Bearcat. This time the ball was picked up by senior defensive back Coby Bryant who retired the ball from the bearcats one yard line to the 25-yard line for 24-yards.

The Bearcats furthered their lead with a 1-yard run by Ford. The score would make it a 49-10 game with just 5:41 minutes left in the fourth quarter.

Both teams would score one more touchdown before time expired. Freshman running back Rahjai Harris had a 1-yard run for the Pirates with 17 seconds left. On an attempt to run out the clock, Cincinnati ran the ball one more time with senior running back Cameron Young, who broke off a 75-yard touchdown, the longest play of the game.

Cincinnati put together a strong effort on the defensive side of the ball. Despite the allowance of 209 combined rushing yards from the Pirates, the Bearcats defense held ECU to just 87 total yards passing. In total yardage, Cincinnati amassed over twice as many yards with 653 to just 293 from the Pirates.

Despite the outcome, the Pirates committed far less penalties than the Bearcats. The Pirates committed just four penalties for 45 yards while the Bearcats committed 13 for 159-yards.

“We’re a much better team than that score shows,” Houston said. “ We made some mistakes, and you can’t make mistakes against a good football team. Injuries are what they are. But you’re going to have years where you have that.”

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