In a back and forth battle for first place in the American Athletic Conference, East Carolina University had No. 18 University of South Florida on its heels until the middle of the third, but failed to complete the upset by falling apart during the fourth quarter.
With both teams coming off of wins in the AAC, the battle for first place took place in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. After a day where the defense could not put together a stop, the Bulls pulled away for a 61-31 victory, heading into halftime with a narrow 31-24 lead.
The Pirates, led by last week's AAC Player-of-the-Week, Thomas Sirk, seemingly went head to head with the Bulls’ quarterback Quinton Flowers. Sirk led the team with most rushing yards with 87. USF’s rushing game and defense, however, was too much for ECU to maintain and take back control of the game.
During the first half the Pirates and Bulls went score for score keeping the intensity high.
“Offensively, I told our guys going into this game it was going be a possession for possession game,” head coach Scottie Montgomery said post game.
Though ECU lost the matchup, the performance the Pirates put up against the Bulls was a sign the team is starting to fall into place. In this game, ECU put up its second most points this season behind last week's’ 41 away at Connecticut.
There were a few offensive mishaps in the game as the Pirates still struggled with ball control, turning the ball over twice, and not finishing off drives.
“One of the biggest points in the game was the dropped ball that turned into a pick-six; we didn't have enough in the end to play with them,” Montgomery said. “This is the standard we have to catch, we have to catch South Florida and their talent.”
Sirk had a great day leading the offense as he took part in all four of ECU’s touchdowns. While he was not as accurate as he was against UConn, his play on the day was good enough to keep the Pirates competitive. Sirk threw for 302 yards, two touchdowns, and completed 20-for-43 passes, but also had two interceptions.
Blocking for the Pirates was not good enough to sustain drives towards the end of the game. Montgomery did like the blocking schemes for Sirk when he ran the ball, but overall, he said the offensive line has to give the quarterback more time to pass the ball.
Wide receiver Davon Grayson caught his fourth touchdown of the season with a 31-yard pass from Sirk in the first half. Right before half, tight end Stephen Baggett was able to get his first touchdown this season, with a two-yard jump pass from Sirk making the score 38-31.
The run game for ECU also saw a boost with Sirk in the backfield. The Pirates rushed for a total of 108 yards, 87 of those coming solely from Sirk. Like Flowers, Sirk showed he could run the ball, rushing for two touchdowns.
“Our guys up front did a great job opening up holes and I just had to read it. We knew that versus these guys QB runs would be more effective for us and it worked today; that's something I'm willing to do for our team,” Sirk said.
The Bulls methodical offense was too much for the Pirate defense. Flowers, being the dual threat, had an average day passing the ball, going 10-for-18 for 160 yards and two touchdowns. Flowers also only connected with three receivers before being pulled from the game by USF head coach Charlie Strong.
While the rushing offense for USF was nearly unstoppable at times, with the team rushing for a total of 390 yards, Flowers, D’Ernest Johnson and Darius Tice all had touchdowns in the game for the third straight week. The three headed rushing attack for the Bulls added another runner to the list with Marquez Valdes-Scantling, after he notched a 75-yard touchdown of his own. With this touchdown, this score marks the seventh consecutive game where ECU has given up a 70-plus yard touchdown.
Defensive back Korrin Wiggins noticed the team performed well at some positions but know the team needs to improve.
“We played hard and we fought today,” Wiggins said. “I feel like coming into next week you got to let this one go and be ready for a Temple team.”
The Pirates must now shake off this first loss in conference play and prepare to face Temple University in another AAC battle next week.
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