The East Carolina University football team finally pieced together a complete game Saturday and thrashed Cincinnati, 48-20 on Senior Night.
While the whole game went smoothly for the Pirates (3-8, 2-5 AAC), the seniors who were trying to perform best on their special night were overshadowed by junior Trevon Brown. Brown broke all kinds of records Saturday afternoon as he hauled in nine catches, but racked up 270 yards, a school and American Athletic Conference record, along with two touchdowns. Brown's first touchdown catch tied another conference record that he set against West Virginia University earlier this year, going for another 95-yard touchdown.
"I thought this was my last year. I was granted another year but I played this game like it was my last," Brown said. "We just reiterated to the underclassmen that you got to play your heart out because when your time comes you're going to want somebody to do the same."
The biggest beneficiary of Brown's huge game was quarterback Gardner Minshew. The captain quarterback hasn't had the easiest of seasons, starting the first game of the season then getting benched behind Thomas Sirk for the next seven games.
Minshew certainly saw a lot of action on Saturday, throwing the ball 45 times for 444 yards and four touchdowns. The Pirates were without previously top-target Davon Grayson, who hurt his back while warming up before the game.
ECU found two new wide receivers though- redshirt freshman Tahj Deans, caught a touchdown pass, and Sirk, who caught two catches for 21 yards. While seeing a quarterback run routes was interesting, Brown was still the show.
"Any time (Brown's) in the game the defense has to know of where he is, and if he's in one-on-one coverage with anybody, we'll take those odds," Minshew said. "We just want to get the ball in his hands any way we can wherever it is on the field."
Before records started breaking, the story of the game was the ECU defense. The Pirates opened the game with a lot of energy and left the Bearcats offense stunned. Cincinnati (3-8, 1-6 AAC) only gained one first down and 13 total yards the entire first quarter which allowed ECU to jump in front 14-0.
In the second quarter, the Bearcats started to find their rhythm more and started mounting a comeback. Down 21-0, quarterback Hayden Moore went to work and connected with Kahlil Lewis and JaQuay Savage for two unanswered touchdowns. This rush from the Bearcats was their most offense all day and by the end of the game, it was the ECU defense on top.
"Defensively, you can see we got a little more aggressive on the edges," ECU head coach Scottie Montgomery said. "We are going to give up a go ball here and there but when you look at the (statistics) sheet and see it's around 300 yards of total offense for the other team, you know you played pretty good."
With momentum fleeting after the second Cincinnati touchdown, the Pirates picked up enough yards after being pinned to their own 5-yard line to leave kicker Jake Verity with an opportunity to end the half on a high note. From 50 yards out, Verity knocked it right between the upright and ECU went to the locker room up 24-13.
"I really trust Jake Verity," Montgomery said. "I'll try to let him kick it if we're anywhere 53 and under. I feel really good about him."
Despite a junior stealing the show, Senior Night still went well for the guys playing their last games in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, especially for players such as Jimmy Williams and Jordan Williams, who've been playing at ECU since 2014. Jordan finished the game seven tackles and a pass breakup, finding himself in the middle of almost every play on defense. Jimmy got something even better.
Early in the second quarter, Williams caught a screen pass around the Cincinnati 5-yard line but appeared to be wrapped up short of the end zone. But then the pile he was at the center of started moving. Williams churned his legs all the way to a touchdown and carried a pile full of Pirates and Bearcats along with him. It was a perfect way for a senior captain to finish.
"If it could have happened any other way, I wouldn't have wanted it to. It really described our whole time here," Williams said. "It was more than a touchdown. It was a mentality."
The Pirates finished their season on Bagwell Field with just their second win at home this season. Next week, the season will conclude at No. 21 Memphis University, who is 9-1 and looking to win a conference championship who currently sit with a 6-1 AAC record. A win next week and Montgomery will surpass his final record of 3-9 lass season. A loss will match it.