football

East Carolina player runs into the end zone scoring a touchdown.

East Carolina University barely escaped Sunday’s game against the University of Connecticut, 41-38. The Huskies failed at a vigorous comeback, giving the Pirates their first victory, thanks to a lucky break on the last play of the game.

With a chance to tie the game on the final play of regulation, UConn trotted out their field goal unit for a 33-yard attempt to force overtime. Kicker Mike Tarbutt, who made his only other attempt of the game, got off a clean kick but missed it wide right and spoiled the Huskies comeback allowing ECU to make the trip back to Greenville with a 41-38 win in its pocket. Sunday’s win marks the first win of the season for the Pirates.

"It was really stressful there at the end, but you've got to get a tough one before you can get an easy one," head coach Scottie Montgomery said.

The offense for ECU played much better in a bounce-back game behind the arm of Thomas Sirk, who was named American Athletic Conference Player-of-the-Week. The Pirates got off to a lightning-fast start once again with Sirk having one of his most accurate games of his career. Sirk completed 30-for-39 passes for 426 yards and three touchdowns. Thanks to all the success in the passing game, ECU was able to establish a credible run game for the first time this season. Eight different Pirates rushed the ball for a combined 170 yards and Derrell Scott and Hussein Howe each reached the end zone.

Sirk appeared to be the quarterback ECU and head coach Scottie Montgomery envisioned him to be. Sirk started the game off completing his first 11 passes while leading the Pirates to 596 yards of total offense. ECU hasn’t had that many yards since AAC play against the University of Central Florida in 2015 with 622. Sirk’s 426 yards are also the ninth most in school history and is the seventh quarterback to record more than 400 yards in a game for the Pirates.

Hualing in all three of Sirk’s touchdown passes was graduate senior standout Davon Grayson. Easily one of Sirk’s top options down the field, Grayson snagged 11 balls for 223 yards with the three touchdowns. His performance was a career-best and third in program history behind Justin Hardy (230 in 2013) and Cam Worthy (224 in 2014). Grayson also earned the College Sports Madness Conference Player-of-the-Week honors and is now the fifth receiver in school history with 200 yards.

“(Sirk) is starting to get a good rapport with these receivers. I thought we missed a few plays in the first half that could've been walk-in scores, but he's starting to get better timing," Montgomery said.

ECU had everything clicking and came out of halftime with the lead for the first time this season. Grayson was also able to add one of his touchdowns, a 75-yard catch, on the first play of the post-halftime drive to extend the lead to 34-14. Following a Huskie touchdown, the Pirates put together their final successful drive, scoring a touchdown before starting to crumble. UConn scored two touchdowns and a field goal over its final four drives while ECU was forced to punt three times and missed a field goal to set the stage for Tarbutt's miss.

Even though getting the first win of the season is nice for the Pirates, the defense still allowed 596 yards and 38 points to a mediocre UConn offense. The Huskies ran the ball for 190 yards and only had one negative play, a four-yard sack by Alex Turner in the first quarter. A major bright spot, however, was Korrin Wiggins who recorded his fifth interception as a Pirate and had 10 tackles. Cannon Gibbs also played a major role in the defense, tallying a career-high 14 tackles, eight of which were solo.

Now standing at 1-3, ECU will return to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Saturday to face another ranked opponent, this time in-conference foe South Florida. The Bulls trounced Temple 43-7 and will make a major leap from No. 18 by the time they come to Greenville. These two teams will battle as the only two with wins in the AAC, making this a battle for top-spot early in the season.

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