East Carolina football (6-4-0, 4-2-0 American Athletic Conference) will officially head to a bowl game after their win over the University of Memphis (5-5-0, 2-4-0 AAC) 30-29 on Nov. 13.
The Pirates haven’t been to a bowl game since their 2014 season and made it their season goal to get to six wins to take Greenville native junior quarterback Holton Ahlers and the rest of the team to many of their first bowl games. Meanwhile, the Tigers have been to seven straight.
"I can't explain it," Ahlers said, according to ECUPirates. "This is the best feeling I've ever had in my life. I'm just so blessed to be a part of this program, be a part of Greenville and this team. It's just a bunch of fighters. To be a part of something like this, to be part of the change, I'm just so blessed."
Kickoff was at noon at the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tennessee. The game began after Memphis won the toss and chose to receive first which they weren't able to capitalize on. In the Pirates' first drive, junior quarterback Holton Ahlers threw his eighth interception of the season picked off by fifth-year defensive back Jacobi Francis for his first of the season. Using the Tigers’ field advantage, freshman quarterback Seth Hennigan threw to redshirt junior running back Asa Martin for a three-yard reception and the extra point was good.
With the Pirates down 0-7, the team made it down the field into the endzone with a fake pass to Mitchell which resulted in a rushing touchdown by Ahlers for a 12 play drive. As time wound down in the first quarter, ECU converted a third down to start the second at first and 10.
Before this game, the Pirates sat in last place in the AAC with a 27.8% third-down completion rate. By the third quarter, the Pirates had already converted ten of them, which was more than they had had in one game over the course of the 2021-22 season.
To continue the Pirates’ drive, they got down the field but then settled for a 24-yard field goal from freshman placekicker Owen Daffer to take the lead 10-7. Memphis was not able to do anything with their possession which brought the ECU offense back out.
Ahlers moved the team down the field with multiple first downs and connections with junior tight end Ryan Jones and sophomore wide receiver C.J. Johnson but ultimately brought Daffer back out for a field goal to take it to 13-7.
In the second, the Pirates had already tripled the Tigers possession time. The Tigers took 16 seconds to get down the field as redshirt junior wide receiver Eddie Lewis completed a 75-yard play. With a missed extra point attempt by freshman kicker David Kemp, the score tied up 13-13. In another play-filled drive by the Pirates, they were again not able to capitalize with six points and settled for another field goal to take the lead at the half 16-13.
East Carolina opened the second half with a failed drive after Ahlers was sacked and brought the team to 4th and 13. To begin this quarter, the teams traded possession before someone was able to actually score.
As the Tigers were set up on the 34-yard line, ECU sophomore cornerback Ja’Quan McMillian got his fifth interception of the season. Once the Pirates got the ball back Mitchell tried to get down the field with a 39-yard run but Ahlers' throw was then intercepted again.
In this quarter, the Tigers redshirt senior wide receiver Calvin Austin III got in as he wasn't fully active this game due to a previous game injury. In this drive, Memphis got first down after first down. Hennigan threw into the endzone but the pass was called incomplete, right after that.
McMillian had a pass interference call which then led to a Tigers first down. With that first down, Hennigan was able to connect with fifth-year tight end Sean Dykes for a two-yard touchdown to take Memphis on top 20-16.
To begin the fourth quarter, the Pirates began their drive down the field but was brought to a halt when sophomore offensive line Avery Jones’s personal foul penalty brought the team to 3rd and 26. As ECU went for it, Ahlers was sacked for the fifth time of the game taking the Pirates out of field goal range. In the Pirates next drive junior wide receiver Tyler Snead officially became No. 4 in ECU history in career receptions as he hit 190.
Freshman running back Rahjai Harris helped ECU take back the lead in a one-yard rushing touchdown to bring the score to 23-30. To try to catch back up with about a minute and a half left Hennigan started the drive with two first-down runs.
In that drive, he was almost intercepted twice before he made a big play to Martin while on 4th and 10. With the time ticking away Hennigan got a last-second first down and was able to set up Kemp on the 24-yard line with two seconds remaining. Kemp, who was 0-2 on the season, made the field goal to take the game into overtime.
To begin overtime, the Pirates received first and in two plays Mitchell was able to get in a 24-yard touchdown and with an extra point by Daffer, Memphis had to score on their next drive. Two plays later, Tiger junior running back Rodrigues Clark got in the endzone off a 20-yard play.
To tie up the game, the Tigers needed an extra point to send it to double overtime but as ECU head coach Mike Houston called a last-second time-out, Memphis chose to try for a two-point conversion. With an incomplete pass, the game ended with a final score of 30-29 clinching a Pirate bowl game.
"The kicker's struggled all year, which is why I called the timeout, to give him a little more time to think about it," Houston said, according to ECUPirates. "The first thing we told them when they came over to the sideline was don't be surprised if they go for two right here. We had the perfect call, our kids played it well, and they did a great job right there in the end zone of not allowing a jump ball."
The Pirates will remain on the road for their second to last game of the season as they travel to Annapolis, Maryland to face the United States Naval Academy (2-7-0, 2-4-0 AAC). Kickoff will happen on Nov. 20 at 3:30 p.m. The game will be shown on CBSSN and broadcasted on 107.9 WNCT-FM.