GREENVILLE, N.C. – East Carolina is set to play in its first bowl game since 2014 when the Pirates take on Sun Belt Conference member Coastal Carolina in the TicketSmarter Birmingham Bowl Dec. 27 at Protective Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:45 p.m. and the contest will air live on ESPN with Tiffany Greene (play-by-play), Jay Walker (analyst) and Jalyn Johnson (sideline) handling the broadcast duties.
ECU is under the direction of fourth-year head coach Mike Houston.
The Birmingham Bowl will mark the second consecutive bowl appearance for East Carolina following the 2021 Military Bowl, which was canceled due to COVID-19 issues within the Boston College program, a first since a run of three consecutive appearances from 2012-24. The Pirates will attempt to secure their eighth win of the season, ECU’s highest single-season victory total since 2014. East Carolina also looks for its first bowl victory since knocking off Ohio 37-20 in the 2013 Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl.
The Pirates (7-5) were last in action Nov. 26 when they traveled up to Philadelphia and recorded a 49-46 win over Temple in the regular season finale. Keaton Mitchell tied his career high with 222 rushing yards and notched four total touchdowns while Holton Ahlers connected with Jaylen Johnson 38 yards to the endzone for the winning score with 1:11 remaining. The teams combined for over 1,000 yards of total offense and nearly 850 passing yards.
Coastal Carolina (9-3) dropped a 45-26 decision to Troy Dec. 3 in the Sun Belt Conference Championship Game and enters the bowl contest looking to snap a two-game losing streak. Grayson McCall completed 29 of 41 attempts for 319 yards, three touchdowns and one interception while adding a rushing score.
East Carolina Records, Streaks and Trends
- Has won eight of the last 13 non-conference games dating back to 2019
- Has not committed an offensive turnover in six-straight contests (longest streak in program history)
- Has not committed an offensive turnover in eight of 12 games (most games without in a season in program history)
- Has allowed only 12 fourth-quarter offensive touchdowns in the last 18 games dating back to 2021
- Has surrendered just 20 points in the fourth quarter in the last five contests
- Has outscored its opponents 186-156 in the second half and overtime this year (+30 in points)
- Has forced at least one turnover in 28 of the last 32 games (and in 39 of the last 44)
- Snapped more offensive plays than their 12 opponents (835-798/+37)
- Has averaged 508.3 total yards and 330.7 passing yards in its last three bowl games
The 2022 TicketSmarter Birmingham Bowl will be the first-ever meeting between Coastal Carolina and East Carolina on the gridiron. On the baseball diamond, the Pirates are 6-8 as the two clubs recently played in the 2022 Greenville Regional Championship where ECU took the title game 13-4 on the way to hosting the Greenville Super Regional. The Pirates own a 5-3 record against Coastal Carolina in men’s basketball.
Mike Houston Against The Chanticleers
Mike Houston has faced off against Coastal Carolina two prior times in his 12-year coaching career, owning a 1-1 all-time record. As the head coach at The Citadel, Houston’s squad lost to the Chanticleers 31-16 in 2014, but avenged the loss the following year during the opening round of the FCS Playoffs with a 41-38 victory over ninth-ranked CCU.
Chad Staggs Against The Pirates
Tuesday’s tilt will mark the first time Chad Staggs has faced the Pirates.
East Carolina Against The Sun Belt Conference
East Carolina has compiled an all-time record of 49-62 (.441) against current members of the Sun Belt Conference. The Pirates are 12-20 against Appalachian State, 2-0 vs. Arkansas State, 3-0 Georgia Southern, 0-1 vs. Georgia State, 0-1 vs. James Madison, 4-7 vs. Louisiana-Lafayette, 1-1 vs. Louisiana-Monroe, 11-5 vs. Marshall, 3-0 vs. Old Dominion, 12-27 vs. Southern Miss and 1-0 vs. Texas State. ECU has enjoyed a recent run of relative success against the SBC, winning eight of the last 12 matchups (dating back to Sept. 1, 2012).
The Monarchs: A Common 2022 Opponent
Both East Carolina and Coastal Carolina had Old Dominion on its schedule this season. The Pirates defeated the Monarchs in early 2022 coming away with a 39-21 victory, while the Chanticleers dropped their October contest 49-21.
Against Non-Conference Opponents
The Pirates have produced a 43-59 (.422) regular season non-league record, which includes a 3-1 clip in 2022. Last year the Pirates split their four non-conference games falling to Appalachian State and South Carolina to open the season before rallying back to post victories against Marshall and Charleston Southern. During his first season as head coach at ECU in 2019, Mike Houston led the Pirates to a 3-1 record – the program’s first winning non-conference ledger since 2014.
Houston In The Postseason
The 2022 TicketSmarter Birmingham Bowl marks the second consecutive bowl appearance for Mike Houston and his staff at East Carolina. While the 2021 Military Bowl served as his first FBS post-season game, it was canceled due to COVID-19 protocols within the Boston College program. Houston does own an impressive 12-5 (.706) mark in post-season matchups at the NCAA Division II and NCAA FCS levels with three different programs – Lenoir-Rhyne (DII/4-2), The Citadel (FCS/1-1) and James Madison (FCS/7-2).
Temple Leftovers (Team)
East Carolina improved to 11-9 all time against Temple and 6-4 against the Owls in Philadelphia … Finished the regular season with a 3-2 record away from home … Clinched a seven-win season for the second-straight year as well as a .500 or better record in conference play (5-3 in 2021) … Concluded the regular season with a 3,000-yard passer (Ahlers/3,408), 1,000-yard rusher (Mitchell/1,325) and 1,000-yard receiver (Winstead/1,013) for just the third time in program history (2012-13) … Surpassed 500 yards of total offense for the fourth time this season … Did not turn the ball over for the sixth-straight contest … Tied its season high in points scored (49/Campbell).
Temple Leftovers (Individual)
QB Holton Ahlers completed 25 of 37 attempts for 314 yards with 3 TDs and no INTs … Upped his season passing yards total to 3,408 – the fourth most in a single season in program history … Now owns three of the top 10 ECU single-season passing yards performances … Moved into second place on the American Athletic Conference passing touchdowns list with 92 … RB Keaton Mitchell tied his career highs in rushing yards (222) and rushing touchdowns (three) … Set a new personal single-game best with four total touchdowns by adding his third career receiving score … Surpassed 100 yards for the sixth-straight game (7 season/14 career) … Raised his regular season total to 1,323 yards, second only to Leonard Henry’s 1,432 in 2001 … Stands fifth on the program’s career rushing yards list, finishing the afternoon with 2,900 – one behind Carlester Crumpler for fourth … Added 78 yards receiving, one short of his career high and finished the game with 300 all-purpose yards … His 73-yard TD reception marked the longest catch of his career … WR Isaiah Winstead notched his fifth receiving TD of the season while WR Jaylen Johnson notched his fourth … SAF Jireh Wilson collected a team-high 12 tackles (six solo) … He led four Pirates in double figures … KR/WR Jsi Hatfield produced his first career kickoff return TD (97 yards) in the second quarter, marking the first for ECU since Tyler Snead’s 95-yard TD return against Temple back on Nov. 21, 2020 – a span of 25 games … CB Malik Fleming hauled in his third interception of the season and the sixth of his career … DL Elijah Morris registered two of the Pirates’ eight quarterback hurries.
East Carolina is 22-30 in non-Saturday games since 2000. Oddly, the Pirates have fared better on the road (15-15; 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 6-12 on Fridays. Most recently, ECU is 11-15 when deviating from the normal Saturday routine since 2010. In 2022, the Pirates have played a pair of non-Saturday contests posting a 1-1 ledger (win at BYU/27-24; loss at Cincinnati/27-25).
Drawing First Blood
East Carolina owns a 10-6 (.626) record when meeting current Division I (FBS) opponents for the first time since 2000. After winning five straight, the Pirates have dropped their last two.
Last Time At The Birmingham Bowl
Florida 28, East Carolina 20 – Jan. 3, 2015 at Legion Field
Despite surrendering 536 total yards on 101 plays, the Gators’ vaunted defensive unit forced three timely turnovers and netted four sacks to help Florida hold off East Carolina 28-20 in the Birmingham Bowl at Legion Field. Nickelback Brian Poole erased an early 7-0 deficit with a 29-yard interception return for a touchdown, while cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III ended any hopes of a Pirate comeback by picking off ECU quarterback Shane Carden in the Gator endzone with 1:20 remaining in the game. In between, Poole also pounced on a fumble at the UF one-yard line to snuff out another East Carolina scoring threat with 3:23 to play in the second period. The Pirates had little difficulty moving the ball between the 20s, but managed only two touchdowns in seven redzone visits. The loss spoiled the final collegiate contest for Carden and record-setting ECU receiver Justin Hardy, who connected 11 times for 160 yards and a score during the rainy afternoon. Carden completed 34 passes on a career-high 66 attempts for 427 yards and two touchdowns. With the exception of one play – Ahmad Fulwood’s 86-yard TD reception – the Pirate defense enjoyed a solid second half by forcing three turnovers and six three-and-outs, while allowing just 97 yards on 10 Gator possessions. A pair of Warren Harvey 24-yard field goals pulled ECU to within eight early in the fourth quarter, and with 3:28 left on the clock, the Pirates began a 53-yard march to the Florida five-yard line before Hargreaves ended the threat on a second-and-goal snap. ECU managed just 109 rushing yards playing without starter Breon Allen and key reserve Marquez Grayson.
Looking For More Loot
Heading into the bowl game, East Carolina is currently +10 on the season in turnover margin. The Pirates have forced seven fumbles, recovering five, and picked off 11 passes for 154 return yards. In its last home outing (vs. UCF), ECU forced a season-high four turnovers (3 INTs, 1 fumble) and registered its fourth multi-turnover game of the season. Despite its impressive 45-3 win, East Carolina’s 16-game streak of forcing at least one turnover came to a halt against Temple on Nov. 6 (2021). The run, which began on Oct. 3, 2020 at Georgia State and produced 36 takeaways (22 interceptions, 14 fumble recoveries), was the program’s longest since a 33-game streak (from 2007 to 2010).
13K-1K Club Membership
Ahlers is the lone active FBS quarterback who has passed for 13,000+ yards and rushed for over 1,000 for his (overall career) and one of six active 10K/1K QBs. He is also the only active FBS QB with over 15,000 total yards.
COURTESY EAST CAROLINA ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS