With 5:34 left in the game and down 17-15, South Florida took over on its own 15 after a Worth Gregory punt. On the third play of that drive USF quarterback Quinton Flowers connected with Rodney Adams for a game-winning 67-yard touchdown, sealing the 22-17 win and sending the Pirates to their third-straight loss.
East Carolina (4-6, 2-4 AAC) has now lost three of its last four and the offensive struggles continued Saturday. Only scoring 13 points the previous game, ECU only scored 17 against USF and only gained 220 yards of offense. In the first half ECU had no first downs and for the fourth-straight game the ECU offense failed to score a touchdown in the first quarter.
“That’s not us,” said head coach Ruffin McNeill. “We’ve been here five years and set all kinds of offensive records. We’re used to scoring a lot of points and our defense depends on that. James – everybody be patient with him. He’s getting reps under fire. I was disappointed. We practiced extremely well this week and I expected us to have a really productive day.”
James Summers started and played the entire game at quarterback for ECU for the first time this season. Summers got his first completion in the middle of the second quarter. Before that pass, he misfired on his first five attempts and was hindered by a few drops.
“[Coach Nichol] and I felt this offense you’ve got to let them see the looks and that’s the patient part,” McNeill said. “We talked about no hesitation all week long, and that’s what we told James, ‘Don’t hesitate to make mistakes. Let it go. Swing your sword, fire it. It’s not ready-aim, its fire.’ And we saw glimpses of that in the second half. We’ve got to get him the reps and he’s got to see the experiences.”
Summers finished the game completing 14 of 22 attempts for 158 yards. He also rushed for a team high 77 yards on 20 rushing attempts with two touchdowns. His biggest gain of the day came on a 56-yard pass to Bryce Williams in the fourth quarter. But Summers felt that the offense had critical mistakes.
“We made some critical mistakes,” said Summers. “In big moments we made a couple critical mistakes and we can’t do that. And they took advantage of that.”
The Pirates offense caught a break in the second quarter when defensive lineman Fred Presley stripped the ball from USF running back D’Ernest Johnson. Linebacker Yiannis Bowden recovered the ball for ECU and the offense took over on the opponent’s seven yard line. Summers scored from seven yards out on the next play and put up the Pirates first points of the game.
Meanwhile, the Pirates defense played strong all night, only allowing 15 points through three quarters. Two mistakes by the defense wiped out the units strong performance. Only allowing 200 yards passing in the game, the 67-yard touchdown proved to be the game winner. Then in an attempt to get the ball back late in the fourth quarter down 22-17, a late hit penalty gave the Bulls a first down and take more time off the clock.
“They switched routes there,” said McNeill of the game winning touchdown. “Our discipline lost right there. I thought we had great discipline all night and this one moment we didn’t. This is the type of game you can’t have that; small margin for error. But those guys played well all night. But you’ve got to make plays at critical times and that was a critical play time right there.”
A concern for the ECU defense was its inability to stop the rushing attack. After allowing 220-yards rushing to Conneticut, the ECU defense 242-yards on the ground against the Bulls. USF running back Marlon Mack was the leading rusher in the game totaling 117 yards on 27 attempts. Flowers also contributed to the running game with 79 yards of his own.
Coming into the game ECU felt that this was a must-win game. The road to bowl eligibility now requires ECU to win its last two games and ECU felt that this game was winnable.
“I mentioned it Monday,” said McNeill. “It was a big game for us. We expect to win games. We practiced well this week to win the game. Sunday we got back and were a little bit down. But Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday were great practices, great preparation, and we practiced and we expected to win the football game.”