East Carolina Pirates

UCF needs a miracle to claim a share of American Athletic Conference title

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UCF head coach George O’Leary will likely be humming an old Mike & The Mechanics tune on his trip back to Orlando.

All UCF needed was a miracle to claim a share of the American Athletic Conference title. Wide receiver Breshad Perriman answered the Knights’ prayers with a 51-yard touchdown catch as time expired to give the UCF a 32-30 victory over the East Carolina Pirates.

Horrible late-game play-calling cost the Pirates their ninth win of the season. With 1:47 remaining at UCF’s 15-yard line, the Pirates called four straight plays that resulted in negative yardage.

The Knights took over at their 35-yard line with 10 seconds remaining. Quarterback Justin Holman immediately connected with receiver Josh Reese for a 15-yard completion, which resulted in a first down and a momentary stoppage in play. Then Holman hurled a prayer into the air with Perriman getting behind a pair of East Carolina defensive backs to score the improbable game-winning touchdown.

The talented junior was outstanding and finished the contest with four receptions for 139 yards.

Perriman was topped by college football’s all-time leading receiver, though. East Carolina’s Justin Hardy made 12 catches for 140 yards and a touchdown.

East Carolina moved the ball, particularly in the second half, and posted another 400-yard game on offense. The Pirates gained over 400 yards in every game this season.

Senior quarterback Shane Carden was 36-of-48 passing for 397 yards, three touchdowns and a pair of interceptions in his last game Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

Holman was steller, too. UCF’s signal caller completed 67 percent of his passes for 274 yards and one unforgettable touchdown toss.

With the win, UCF will share this year’s American Atheltic Conference championship with the Memphis Tigers. It doesn’t matter how it happened; the Knights can celebrate after their second-straight conference title:

Turnover, penalty nearly cost Bearcats in 54-46 victory over ECU

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No one knows exactly which team the College Football Playoff committee prefers among the “Group of Five” conferences not in consideration to be named a participant in one of the playoff slots.

In the new system, the best team from the American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West Conference or the Sun Belt Conference is granted an automatic berth into one of the New Year’s Bowls.

Cincinnati tried to help its case Thursday when the national spotlight was shining brightly. But the Bearcats’ 54-46 victory didn’t come without its share of drama.

First and foremost, the win by Tommy Tuberville‘s squad gave the program a 4-1 record in the American, which is tied with the Memphis Tigers. Cincinnati is 6-3 overall with losses to Ohio State, Miami and Memphis.

However, an exciting offensive team like Cincinnati could prove to be enticing for the committee.

The Bearcats amassed 586 total yards Thursday. Quarterback Gunner Kiel was 29-of-44 passing for 436 yards and four touchdowns. Kiel connected with wide receiver Mekale McCoy nine times for 172 yards.

When Cincinnati needed the offense to move the ball quickly late in the game, Kiel marched the Bearcats 35 yards in 47 seconds to set up the 47-yard game-winning field goal by kicker Andrew Gantz.

It was the previous drive which presented problems for Cincinnati, though. Those problems should have cost the Bearcats the game due to poor decision-making.

As Cincinnati attempted to run out the clock with a 45-40 lead, Tuberville decided it was a good idea to attempt a quarterback option to seal the game. Kiel isn’t much of a running quarterback. The play ended miserably as the pitch fell to the ground and East Carolina recovered.

To make matters worse, Cincinnati appeared to have stopped East Carolina on the ensuing drive only to be called for pass interference in the end zone. Pirates quarterback Shane Carden eventually capitalized with a two-year touchdown dive.

Despite all of that, the Bearcats still found a way to win in the end.

Was it enough to make them the favorite to emerge out of the “Group of Five?” Probably not. East Carolina may have been the favorite to claim this honor earlier in the season with a strong national ranking, but the Pirates lost their last two games.

Meanwhile, the undefeated Marshall Thundering Herd is still looming just outside the Top 25. Memphis maintains an edge over Cincinnati due to their head-to-head meeting. Finally, Georgia Southern also remains undefeated in the Sun Belt with two losses coming in tight games against North Carolina State and Georgia Tech.

Thursday’s game just proved to be another entertaining contest where neither team really put their best foot forward.

Big plays give Cincinnati Bearcats 31-20 edge over ECU Pirates at halftime

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The first half of the meeting between the East Carolina Pirates and Cincinnati Bearcats was a microcosm for the seasons both teams are having.

The Bears lead 31-20 through two quarters, but the game is far from settled. Just like the American Athletic Conference, this game could go down to the wire.

Both teams are approaching this game like they any other contest they played in recent weeks.

The Pirates sputtered at points. The Shane Carden-led offense was in the red zone four times before the Pirates finally found the end zone.

Despite the slow start, Carden finished the half 20-of-35 passing for 255 yards. But the Pirates can’t continue to come up short after they successfully move the football. Cincinnati is far too explosive on offense to trade field goals for touchdowns.

The Bearcats’ explosiveness on offense showed up during the team’s first drive of the game. Quarterback Gunner Kiel targeted junior wide receiver Mekale McCoy for a short screen. The 6-6 receiver picked his way through blockers, tiptoed down the sidelines and finally burst past the Pirates’ secondary for a 55-yard touchdown.

McCoy caught six passes for 116 yards.

With the Bearcats trailing 20-14 in the second quarter, Kiel connected with junior Chris Moore on a post for a 66-yard touchdown pass.

But Cincinnati’s downfall all season has been its inability to stop opposing offenses. The Pirates already amassed 333 yards of offense compared to the Bearcats’ 393.

These two teams should continue their offensive onslaught during the second half. With more scoring to come, a chance to win an American Athletic Conference crown is riding on the outcome.

No. 18 ECU Pirates may stumble in polls despite 31-21 victory over UConn

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The No. 18 East Carolina Pirates secured a 31-21 victory over the Connecticut Huskies Thursday. But was it enough for the Pirates to remain the top non-Power Five program and the favorite to claim an appearance in a contract bowl?

Sometimes a win can be viewed as a loss.

The Pirates struggled against a Huskies squad that entered the game 1-5 and didn’t have a victory against a single FBS opponent this season. It wasn’t until six minutes left in the game that East Carolina finally pulled away from UConn.

When a non-power conference team trying to impress the College Football Playoff gets an opportunity to add style points to their resume on national television, it has to do so. East Carolina didn’t.

The Pirates moved the ball and racked up 580 total yards, but they weren’t able to complete drives most of the evening. UConn employed a bend-but-don’t-break, and the scheme worked.

If East Carolina isn’t putting up big scoring and yardage numbers, the team is nowhere near as impressive.

East Carolina’s primary competition as the top non-Power Five program is the Marshall Thundering Herd. Marshall is currently ranked 23rd overall in the AP Top 25. The Thundering Herd’s underwhelming schedule has prevented them from legitimately entering the national conversation. Yet, Marshall’s schedule doesn’t feature a team ranked lower than Connecticut.

Despite the lackluster effort, East Carolina did win the game. Ruffin McNeill‘s squad overcame adversity and was able to win a close contest even though everything didn’t go in their favor. The program still holds victories over the Virginia Tech Hokies and the No. 25 North Carolina Tar Heels.

Plus, very few teams feature a dynamic duo like quarterback Shane Carden and Justin Hardy. Carden was 38-of-64 passing Thursday for 445 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Hardy, meanwhile, grabbed 14 passes for 186 yards. The impressive effort moved Hardy into second place among the FBS’ all-time receptions list.

The Huskies deserve some credit for knocking down the Pirates a notch. First-year head coach Bob Diaco has his team playing hard, and they seem to be figuring some things out. The defense plays sound football, while the offense was finally able to move the ball in stretches against East Carolina.

In the end, East Carolina is still the top non-Power Five program in college football, but the margin between the top team and the second team is much closer after Thursday night’s effort.

No. 18 ECU Pirates lead UConn 14-7 as Carden, Hardy post memorable halves

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The first half of Thursday’s meeting with the Connecticut Huskies had it all for East Carolina quarterback Shane Carden.

Carden already threw the ball 39 times as the No. 18 East Carolina Pirates built a 14-7 over the Huskies at halftime. Carden is well on his way to eclipsing his season high of 48 passes.

The quarterback also doubled his season total for interceptions by throwing an ill-advised pass into the end zone. UConn senior cornerback Byron Jones came down with the ball.

The senior signal-caller also threw a pair of touchdowns. The first of which was a highlight reel reception by senior wide receiver Justin Hardy. Hardy dove in the end zone and bobbled the ball before he finally came down with the 13-yard touchdown reception (see: below).

The catch wasn’t Hardy’s only memorable moment of the evening. The prolific pass-catcher also climbed another rung on NCAA’s all time receptions ladder. Hardy became the NCAA’s third all-time leader in receptions during the first half. The talented wide receiver already made six receptions for 90 yards.

While the Pirates continued to throw the ball over the field, the Huskies prevented the big play. Despite surrendering 302 yards of total offense through two quarters, Connecticut is within striking distance due to Easter Carolina’s miscues.

Connecticut has been able to throw the ball better than expected. Senior quarterback Chandler Whitmer is 7-of-10 passing for 96 yards. But the Huskies stalled on offense numerous times due to penalties and an inability to run the ball.

For the Huskies to remain in the game, they’ll need to shorten the second half. Carden can’t be allowed to throw the ball 25 times in one quarter like he did in the opening frame. A commitment to the running game will help keep the Pirates offense off the field, while the Huskies try to to muster enough offense to garner their first win over an FBS opponent this season.