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East Carolina University football (7-5-0, 5-3-0 American Athletic Conference) had its senior night spoiled by Cincinnati University (12-0-0, 8-0-0 AAC) in a 35-13 loss.

The game kicked off at 3:30 p.m. on Nov. 26 in Greenville, North Carolina, at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

ECU won the coin toss and elected to receive the ball to open the game. The first play of the game was a rush by freshman running back Keaton Mitchell for a two-yard gain. Following the rush, the Pirates were unable to move the ball downfield, resulting in a fourth down punt.

The special teams unit for Cincinnati got off to an early start, partially blocking a punt that sailed right for a gain of only three yards, allowing the Bearcats to start at ECU’s 31-yard line. 

Cincinnati established the passing game, converting the first pass for 18 yards. However, after failing to convert on back-to-back downs, the Bearcats faced third and 15. Sophomore defensive lineman Rick D’Abreu sacked Cincinnati senior quarterback Desmond Ridder for a loss of 10 yards. Facing fourth down, the Bearcats attempted a field goal that was not converted, allowing the Pirates to take over on offense.

ECU took the ball downfield led by three big gains from junior quarterback Holton Ahlers to junior tight end Ryan Jones. The drive stalled out after the Pirates brought the ball down to Cincinnati’s 17-yard line. The Pirates brought in redshirt freshman Owen Daffer to attempt a field goal on fourth down, which was converted to give ECU the first lead of the game at 3-0. 

The Bearcats regained possession of the ball, where they marched downfield before facing their own third down. The Bearcats were unable to convert on third down and decided to go for it on fourth down. They were unable to convert on fourth due to pressure from the Pirates defense and an incompletion thrown by Ridder, which gave ECU an opportunity to take over on offense again. 

After three quick plays that did not produce a first down, ECU punted the ball. Cincinnati found rhythm offensively, converting passes for more than 10 yards back-to-back. The drive finished with a 44-yard touchdown pass from Ridder to give the Bearcats a 7-3 lead. The Pirates were unable to respond on offense between Cincinnati scores on the next three possessions, leading to a 21-3 lead for the Bearcats. 

“Wish we could have those back,” sophomore wide receiver Tyler Snead said during the postgame press conference. “Some of the plays, some of the penalties, but it is what it is now.”

The Bearcats marched downfield to score again when ECU’s freshman safety Teagan Wilk forced a fumble that was recovered by sophomore cornerback Ja’Quan McMillian to give the Pirate offense another opportunity. However, with the first half clock winding down, the Pirates were unable to score. 

To open the second half, ECU kicked off to Cincinnati on a drive that was unable to gain ground. On third down, Ridder threw a pass that was intercepted by ECU senior safety Warren Saba. Both the Pirates and the Bearcats punted to one another on each of their next possessions.

After gaining possession of the ball again, the Pirates were able to put together a drive that converted one fourth down attempt and ended in a field goal by Daffer on another. The Pirates second field goal was the first score of the second half, trimming the Cincinnati lead to 21-6.

Following the score, the Pirates defense stepped up against Cincinnati’s next drive. The Pirates pushed the Bearcats backwards, forcing them to punt on fourth and 19 at their own seven-yard line. The Pirates gained enough yardage to put them in field goal range on fourth down, where they attempted another field goal. The kick by Daffer was blocked by the Bearcats and scooped up for a touchdown, bringing the score to 28-6, Cincinnati. 

ECU responded by putting together a drive led by passing from Ahlers. Snead caught two passes for 50 yards, setting up Ahlers to complete a 12-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Jsi Hatfield to bring the score to 28-13. The Pirates again forced the Cincinnati offense to punt before receiving the ball again.

After Cincinnati turned the ball over on downs, both the Pirates and the Bearcats exchanged interceptions with Saba grabbing one in the endzone to put ECU back in position to score. The Pirates were not able to convert, however, as the ball was forced out of Ahlers’ hands on a fourth down play for a fumble. 

Cincinnati took back over on offense after the fumble and put together a drive that once again ended in seven points for the Bearcats, bringing the final score to 35-13.

“For our young players, it’s a great learning experience,” head coach Mike Houston said during the postgame press conference. “We’re going to be in these ballgames a lot over the next several years. We’ve got to take that and learn from it.”

Completing its season goal of six wins, ECU is eligible for a bowl game that is to be announced for the last game of the 2021 season.

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