Key American Conference Showdown in Cincinnati tonight; 6-3, 3-2 East Carolina Pirates at 7-2, 4-1 UC Bearcats

GREENVILLE, N.C. – Following its bye week, East Carolina returns to action Friday night when it visits Cincinnati for a nationally-televised American Athletic Conference contest at Nippert Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. and the contest will air on ESPN2 with Roy Philpott (play-by-play), Andre Ware (analyst) and Paul Carcaterra (sideline) handling the broadcast duties.

ECU is under the direction of fourth-year head coach Mike Houston.

The Pirates (6-3, 3-2 AAC) clinched bowl eligibility for the second-straight season with a 27-24 non-conference victory at BYU back on Oct. 28. True freshman kicker Andrew Conrad nailed a career long 33-yard field goal as time expired, representing the only points of the fourth quarter. East Carolina got it done on the ground as Holton Ahlers tallied two rushing touchdowns and Keaton Mitchell racked up 176 yards on 21 carries with a score of his own. Mitchell has registered six rushing touchdowns in his last three outings.

The Bearcats (7-2, 4-1 AAC) downed Navy 20-10 at home last Saturday to keep pace with UCF for second place in the league standings. Ben Bryant logged 299 passing yards on 25 completions and a pair of touchdowns. Tyler Scott was on the receiving end of those two scores, finishing the game with 139 yards via 10 catches. Cincinnati enters the contest having won 31 straight at Nippert Stadium.

East Carolina Records, Streaks and Trends

  • Earned bowl eligibility for the second-straight year under Houston (first consecutive seasons since 2012-14)
  • Won seven of its last 10 AAC games (4 of 5/2021; 3 of 5/2022)
  • Allowed only 10 fourth-quarter offensive touchdowns in the last 15 games
  • Surrendered just three points in the fourth quarter in the last two contests
  • Outscored opponents 149-110 in the second half and overtime this season (+39)
  • Forced at least one turnover in 25 of the last 29 games (and in 36 of the last 41)
  • Snapped more offensive plays than its nine opponents (632-596/+36)

The Series
East Carolina leads the series with Cincinnati 13-12. The Bearcats have won 10 of the last 11, including the first seven of eight meetings as American Conference brethren. UC also holds a 7-5 edge in 12 contests in Cincinnati.

Mike Houston Against The Bearcats
Friday night’s game at Cincinnati will serve as the fourth matchup for Mike Houston against the Bearcats (0-3).

Luke Fickell Against The Pirates
Sixth meeting (4-1; ECU win in 2017, Cincinnati victories in 2018, 2019 & 2020). The Pirates did not compete against Akron (2000-01) and Ohio State (2002-16) while Fickell was a member of those respective staffs.

Last Meeting (Nov. 26, 2021)
No. 4 Cincinnati used Desmond Ridder’s arm, a pivotal special teams score and a smothering performance from its vaunted defense to post a 35-13 American Athletic Conference victory over East Carolina at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium to spoil the Pirates’ Senior Day festivities. The Bearcats’ triumph also snapped ECU’s four-game win streak and maintained the former’s position for selection into the four-team College Football Playoff. East Carolina, which was held to a season-low 54 rushing yards, could only manage a pair of Owen Daffer field goals and a Holton Ahlers’ touchdown toss midway through the fourth quarter despite forcing three UC turnovers. Cincinnati quickly erased a 3-0 deficit with a 21-point second period thanks to a pair of Ridder scoring passes and a two-yard plunge by Jerome Ford. With ECU gaining momentum and trying to trim the margin to just 12 points (21-9) early in the fourth quarter, Ahmad Gardner returned a blocked 35-yard Daffer three-point attempt 60 yards for a touchdown and a commanding 28-6 lead. Ahlers tried to rally the Pirates, capping a five play, 75-yard drive with a 12-yard TD strike to Jsi Hatfield with 9:38 remaining. Cincinnati’s defense took over from there, forcing an interception and fumble on ECU’s next two possessions to put the game on ice before Ryan Montgomery’s two-yard scoring rush with only 1:44 showing on the clock to account for the final score. Ridder completed 17-of-28 passes for 301 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while Alec Pierce topped triple digits in reception yards with 136 on eight grabs. The Pirates managed just 1.4 yard per carry on the ground and only 5.8 yards per pass attempt (228 on 39). The Bearcats were also able to apply plenty of pressure in the ECU backfield, logging 8.0 tackles for lost yardage and 3.0 sacks.

BYU Leftovers (Team)
Finished the non-conference slate with a 3-1 record … The Pirates last won three of four non-league matchups in head coach Mike Houston‘s first season (2019) … Recorded the first true road win of the season (South Florida victory was in Boca Raton, Fla) … Improved to 2-1 all time against BYU and recorded its first-ever win in Provo … Had a true freshman kicker win a contest on the last play of the game for the second-straight season (other: Owen Daffer provided the winning field goal in a 38-35 victory at Navy on Nov. 20, 2021) … Won second-straight decision over a team bound for the Big 12 Conference in 2023 … Improved to 6-3 overall for the first time since 2014.

BYU Leftovers (Players)
HC Mike Houston recorded his 100th career win as a head coach …QB Holton Ahlers completed 15 of 22 attempts for 197 yards, two rushing touchdowns and no interceptions … For his career, he has accounted for 111 TDs (87 passing, 24 rushing) … Ahlers set the program record for touchdowns responsible for while tying the school standard for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback … He also moved into second place on the Pirate career list in quarterback rushing yards (1,396) … RB Keaton Mitchell registered a team-high 176 yards on 21 carries with a rushing touchdown … He now owns six rushing touchdowns in his last three outings, also surpassing 100 yards in the last three contests … WR Isaiah Winstead pulled in a squad-high 63 receiving yards on five catches … WR C.J. Johnson moved into a tie for sixth place in program history in receptions (152) and fourth in receiving yards (2,535) … LB Chance Bates matched his career high with a team-best 11 tackles … SAF Teagan Wilk set a new personal best with 10 tackles.

Mitchell Eyes Consecutive 1K Seasons
Keaton Mitchell, who leads The American in rushing yards, needs just 137 ground yards for 1,000 on the season. Once he reaches that milestone, he will be the first Pirate running back with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons since Tay Cooper (2012-13). Last year, Mitchell surpassed the single-season 1,000-yard mark with a 23-yard rush on the initial snap of the game against Navy, becoming the first East Carolina running back since 2013 to reach four digits in a campaign. In all, 17 Pirates have eclipsed the 1K ground yard mark in ECU history beginning with Dave Alexander (1,029) in 1965.

12K-1K Club Membership
Ahlers is the lone active FBS quarterback who has passed for 12,500+ yards and rushed for over 1,000 for his (overall career) and one of three active 10K/1K QBs. He is also the only active FBS QB with over 14,000 total yards.

Among Top Passing Units In American History
Since joining the AAC in 2014, the Pirates stand second in passing yards over a combined eight-plus year period despite utilizing nine starting quarterbacks, four offensive coordinators and three head coaches: 1. Memphis (35,500), 2. East Carolina (30,905), 3. SMU (28,721), 4. UCF (28,416), 5. Houston (28,409), 6. Cincinnati (27,914), 7. Tulsa (26,536), 8. Temple (24,268), 9. South Florida (21,993), 10. Tulane (20,072) and 11. Navy (8,788). However, the Pirates top the league in completions (2,609) and attempts (4,267). ECU has also accounted for a conference-high 20 400-yard passing games and surpassed the 300-yard mark on 53 occasions during the 99-game span. The top two receivers in NCAA FBS history by career receptions – Zay Jones (399 from 2013-16) and Justin Hardy (387 from 2011-2014) – are former ECU players.

Non-Saturday Mayhem
East Carolina is 22-29 in non-Saturday games since 2000. Oddly, the Pirates have fared better on the road (15-14; 7-15 at home). In terms of days (including bowls), ECU is 5-1 on Sundays, 1-1 on Mondays, 2-1 on Tuesdays, 0-3 on Wednesdays, 8-12 on Thursdays and 6-11 on Fridays. Most recently, ECU is 11-14 when deviating from the normal Saturday routine since 2010.

Looking For More Loot
Heading into the Cincinnati game, East Carolina is currently +6 for the season in takeaways. The Pirates have forced nine fumbles, recovering five and picked off eight passes for 137 return yards. In its last home outing, ECU forced a season-high four turnovers (3 INTs, 1 fumble) and registered its fourth multi-turnover game of the season.