Coming off a loss in its previous game, the East Carolina University (1-4, 1-3 AAC) football team traveled to Oklahoma and fell to the University of Tulsa (3-1, 3-0 AAC) by a final score of 34-30.
The Pirates lost their previous home game to the United States Naval Academy (3-3, 3-1 AAC) on Oct. 17, with a final score of 27-23. The Hurricanes are now on a three-game win streak, outscoring their previous two opponents 76-39.
The first possession of the game for the Pirates resulted in a quick punt, but the defense immediately responded with an interception by senior defensive back Warren Saba. This was his second interception of the year with his first coming from the matchup against Georgia State University (2-2, 1-2 SBC) on Oct. 3.
Saba’s interception resulted in the first score of the game by the Pirate offense. Sophomore receiver Tyler Snead caught a 14-yard pass from junior quarterback Holton Alhers for a touchdown.
Several turnovers hurt the East Carolina offense early in the game, but Tulsa lost several turnovers later. Two fumbles were caused and recovered by the Tulsa defense in the first half, but the Pirates held their opponent to only three points on both drives.
At the end of the first half, Hurricane’s redshirt senior Zach Smith threw his second interception of the game, this time to sophomore defensive back Shawn Dourseau for the Pirates. Early in the fourth, Tulsa lost a fumble which led to a field goal for the Pirates.
Over the course of the first half, ECU controlled the game with a 17-3 lead over the Hurricanes. Sophomore receiver C.J. Johnson scored the second touchdown for the Pirates with a 25-yard pass from Alhers. Going into the half with a 14 point lead was something Head Coach Mike Houston was very happy with though he acknowledged they didn’t play a perfect half.
“Playing on the road against a quality defense, we had some struggles there early,” Houston said. “But still we were playing well, we were able to get the lead there out of the gate, and we were playing well enough defensively to overcome some of the early struggles and our offense did a good job there early in the second quarter of getting us a solid lead at the half.”
To start the second half, Tulsa scored on back-to-back drives. Smith completed a 25-yard pass to senior receiver Keylon Stokes for the touchdown to open the second half, and redshirt sophomore running back T.K. Wilkerson ran for a 13-yard touchdown to follow up.
On the opposite end, the start of the second half was rough for the Pirate offense. After kicking a field goal in between Tulsa’s scoring drives, Alhers threw an interception, followed by a blocked field goal attempt. By the start of the fourth quarter, the score was 20-20.
Both teams went into a scoring shootout until the end of the game. Redshirt junior receiver JuanCarlos Santana caught a 39-yard touchdown for the Hurricanes. The Pirates responded with a strong drive led by Alhers, capped off with a 4-yard run from freshman running back Rahjai Harris, bringing the score to 30-27 ECU.
Tulsa’s final drive was saved several times by the officiating. A fourth down flag, an overturned fumble call, and a controversial catch call allowed Tulsa to score leaving very little time left on the clock for a Pirates response.
Tulsa sealed the game with a touchdown drive leaving just 0:29 left in the game. Wilkerson scored the touchdown on a 1-yard run. The Pirates were unable to score with the little time left in the game.
“I have coached almost 200 ball games as a head coach in my life, and a hundred plus at the college level and I have never seen anything like that in my entire life,” Houston said. “We dominated the time of possession, they were 3-14 on third down, we just had two turnovers there in the first half that hurt us, but we overcame those. Our kids just kept on playing and they just kept on coming back.”
Alhers finished with 330 passing yards, throwing 38 for 50 on completions. He added three passing touchdowns with one interception. Harris led the run game with 118 yards on 21 carries. Snead compiled 108 yards receiving with a touchdown on 16 catches.
The Pirates will be defending Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium against Tulane University (2-4, 0-4 AAC) on Nov. 7. Kickoff is scheduled for noon on ESPN+.