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Zay Jones breaks former ECU teammate’s FBS record for career receptions

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In 2014, Zay Jones watched as teammate Justin Hardy set an FBS record.  Two years later, Jones is the record-setter — at his former East Carolina teammate’s expense.

With his eighth catch of the day in the game against Navy, Hardy pushed his total of career receptions to 388.  That broke the FBS record of 387 set by Hardy from 2011-14.

Jones caught 62 passes as a freshman in 2013, then grabbed 81 and 98 the next two seasons. Coming into today’s game, Jones had a whopping 139 receptions; the FBS single-season record is 155 by Bowling Green’s Freddie Barnes in 2009. As Jones already has 10 receptions in the first half against Navy — he’s caught at least 10 passes in 10 of 11 games this year — he’s just six catches away from tying and seven from breaking Barnes’ seven-year-old standard.

East Carolina QB Kurt Benkert to transfer with two years eligibility

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East Carolina quarterback Kurt Benkert will pursue a transfer to end his college football career at another program, East Carolina announced Monday. Benkert is scheduled to graduate from East Carolina this spring, which will make him eligible to compete right away at another FBS program this fall according to NCAA graduate transfer rules. It was not announced where Benkert will transfer.

“I am saddened to announce that I am transferring from East Carolina University,” Benkert said in a statement released by ECU. “I am very blessed for the opportunity that ECU has given me in obtaining my degree, and am forever thankful for the support from such great coaches, teammates, faculty and fans. This was a very tough decision that came from a lot of sleepless nights and conversations from those close to me. With that being said, I feel it is in my best interest to explore other options for graduate school. Thank you again Pirate Nation for the support throughout the last three years, it was never unnoticed and I will forever be grateful for it.”

Benkert was lost for the 2015 season to a right knee injury. With Benkert unable to play for the Pirates, Blake Kemp ended up being East Carolina’s top quarterback with 2,658 passing yards and 16 touchdowns. The Pirates now have four quarterbacks on the roster, including Philip Nelson, who was dismissed from Rutgers after a transfer from Minnesota amid some serious legal trouble). Nelson is the likely leading candidate for the starting job for East Carolina.

Baker Mayfield claims Burlsworth Trophy as top former walk-on

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Baker Mayfield may be left out of the Heisman mix when it’s all said and done, but the Oklahoma quarterback will still be taking home some hardware following a statistically prolific 2015 regular season.

Monday afternoon, it was announced that Mayfield has been named as the recipient of the 2015 Burlsworth Trophy.  The award is given out annually to the nation’s top player who began his career as a walk-on and is named in honor of Brandon Burlsworth, the former All-SEC Arkansas offensive lineman who was killed in a car accident 11 days after the 1999 NFL draft.

Mayfield was one of three finalists for this year’s award, the others being Washington State quarterback Luke Falk and Penn State defensive end Carl Nassib.

Mayfield’s 3,389 yards passing were fourth in the Big 12 and 19th nationally.  His 35 passing touchdowns were the most in the conference and sixth in the country.

Last year’s winner was East Carolina wide receiver Justin Hardy.

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.