Gators down Pirates in final minutes

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Getting in position to tie the game in Gainesville, ECU let the opportunity slip away, losing 31-24 to the Florida Gators Saturday night.

Marching down the field as the play clock was expiring, Blake Kemp and the East Carolina offense had a chance to tie Florida at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. On second and ten, Kemp dropped back to pass hoping to tie game, but lost the football when he cocked back to throw.

Florida (2-0) recovered Kemp’s fumble and narrowly escaped with a victory over ECU (1-1). Missed opportunities and field goals from the Gators helped ECU stay in the game.

“The game of football is about mistakes” said senior linebacker Zeek Bigger. “That’s how sometimes you win the game. They had a couple of them, but we had a couple of them too.

Kemp capitalized early in his second start at quarterback for ECU. Slowly chipping away at the Gator defense, the ECU offense got into Florida territory. Then Kemp tossed his first touchdown as a Pirate, a 31-yard strike to Davon Grayson.

The ECU quarterback finished the game with 34-of-54 and totaled 333 yards and three touchdowns. His other two touchdowns went to Isaiah Jones and Bryce Williams.

“They did what we wanted them to do,” said Kemp. “Both coaches called a great game, our receivers did well, our offensive linemen did well too.”

After scoring the first touchdown of the game, the Pirates were held scoreless for the remainder of the first half. The stalled offense turned to backup quarterback James Summers for two series in the half, but it amounted to nothing.

The ECU running game also was unable to produce. Rushing for 154 yards against Towson, Chris Hairston only had 15 yards on 17 carries. As a team, ECU finished with negative 13 yards. While the offense was working through its struggles, the defense kept Florida’s offense in check and only allowed 10 points at the half. Two missed field goals also helped ECU’s defense, but it came up big when Florida was threatening to score.

“I’ve got to give it to my team,” said Bigger. “We came out and fought like we wanted to and we did what we were supposed to do. Some things didn’t go our way but we’re proud, we fought our way to the end. I have to give props to Florida. We fell short but we still got more to go.”

The Pirates continued to play hard in front of 88,034 Gator fans in The Swamp, almost completing a comeback victory. Down 31-17 with 6:57 left to play, ECU quickly responded with a touchdown. Forcing the Gators to punt ECU, had a chance to win with 1:43 left in the game.

In the final moments of the game Kemp moved his team downfield and in position to tie the game. Even with the game ending on a Kemp fumble, Kemp has earned the confidence of his teammates.

“We gained complete confidence,” said Jones. “We had confidence in our team and confidence in Blake that we were going to get the job done. I’m just really proud of our guys. Tonight we fought hard.”

Head coach Ruffin McNeill was also pleased with the team’s effort. Although McNeil does not believe in moral victories, he was proud of the way his team handled themselves.

“We have a lot of new faces in every position,” said McNeill. “A lot of new faces staff-wise to go into a situation like this. When you go into a situation like this, you can handle it two ways. Some teams may fold and quit executing, quit believing. That doesn’t happen, our kids trust us as a staff and our values and what we believe in.” Offensive Coordinator Dave Nichol is one of the new faces in the coaching staff. With a conservative game plan in the first game of the season, Nichol opened up the playbook more and put his players in good situations. “We knew how they ran,” said Kemp. “We had plays called for the right coverage and we did a good job of running with the offensive line and scoring touchdowns.” Although the Pirates will leave Gainesville with a loss, the team will continue to be confident.

“We’ve been confident. Before the season started, we were confident. Last week, we were confident. Our confidence is going to keep rolling. We’re 1-1 but it’s okay, we’ve got more games to play,” said Bigger

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