GREENVILLE, N.C. — East Carolina returns home Saturday for its second game of the year inside the friendly confines of Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, entertaining FCS opponent Gardner-Webb on the campus’ annual Family Weekend.

WNCT Sports Talk: Life after being a student-athlete at ECU

Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. and the contest will stream live via ESPN+ with James Westing (play-by-play) and Reggie Walker (color analyst) on the call.

The Pirates are under the direction of fifth-year head coach Mike Houston.

Episode 4 of ‘Inside Pirate Athletics’

ECU (0-3) saw a second-half lead dissipate in a 43-28 loss to Appalachian State last Saturday in Boone at a sold-out Kidd Brewer Stadium. ECU maintained the upper hand much of the first half as Alex Flinn directed a 10-play, 75-yard drive on the opening series. The redshirt junior ultimately completed 17 of 31 passes for 158 yards with three interceptions while Rahjai Harris provided some punch on the ground with 56 yards on 12 carries and a pair of touchdowns. The game featured six lead changes, five turnovers, four scoring plays of at least 34 yards and a pair of defensive touchdowns – both by ECU.

ECU’s Houston talks game with ASU, next home contest

The Runnin’ Bulldogs (1-2) lost a tough 27-25 decision at Tennessee State last Saturday as the Tigers nailed a 50-yard field goal try with nine seconds remaining on the clock. Narii Gaither rushed for 152 yards in the setback and Matthew Caldwell completed 20 of 49 passing attempts for 219 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Gardner-Webb’s lone win occurred Sept. 9 against Elon by a 34-27 margin while the Runnin’ Bulldogs also have a 45-24 loss to Appalachian State on their ledger.

East Carolina Records, Streaks and Trends

  • Has won nine of its last 17 non-conference games since 2019.
  • Has allowed 17 fourth-quarter offensive touchdowns in the last 22 games.
  • Has surrendered just 56 points in the fourth quarter in the last nine games.
  • Has forced at least one turnover in 31 of the last 34 games (and in 42 of the last 48).
  • Scored a pair of defensive touchdowns at Appalachian State, marking the first time accomplishing the feat since 2013 (Old Dominion) and third time since 2009 (Conference USA Championship Game at Tulsa).

The Series
Saturday’s contest marks the second meeting between Gardner-Webb and East Carolina on the gridiron. The Pirates took the opening game of the series in 2019 with a 48-9 victory at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

App State prevails over Pirates in front of record crowd

Mike Houston Against The Runnin’ Bulldogs
Mike Houston has faced Gardner-Webb twice during his 12-year coaching career. After an 0-3 start to his tenure at The Citadel, he picked up his first-ever Division I (FCS) victory with a 37-14 triumph over GWU at Johnson Hagood Stadium in Charleston during week four of the 2014 campaign. Houston would lead The Citadel to five wins in his final nine contests to round out the year with a 5-7 record. During his first year at ECU, Houston and the Pirates defeated Gardner-Webb 48-9 in his second game as the Pirates’ skipper.

Against The FCS
The Pirates own a 29-3 record against programs that currently compete or competed in the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly NCAA Division I-AA) level when the game was played. Among East Carolina’s previous FCS opponents, Appalachian State (2-0), Georgia Southern (3-0), UCF (2-0) and Southwest Texas State (1-0/now named Texas State) have made the transition to the FBS level.

Last Meeting
East Carolina 48, Gardner-Webb 9
(Sept. 7, 2019 @ Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium – Greenville, N.C.)
Running backs Darius Pinnix and Demetrius Mauney each turned in 100-yard rushing performances to power East Carolina past Gardner-Webb in the Pirates’ home opener at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. In all, ECU racked up 365 ground yards on 51 carries – an average of 7.2 yards per attempt. Holton Ahlers accounted for 273 yards of total offense and three touchdowns, scoring on a pair of short first-half runs and finding Blake Proehl on a 20-yard strike early in the third quarter. Defensively, the Pirates applied plenty of heat with seven stops behind the line of scrimmage (-48 yards), which included five sacks, and picked off a pair of passes deep inside Runnin’ Bulldogs territory that set up two more touchdowns. East Carolina scored on its first four drives (and on six of its first seven possessions) to jump out to a commanding 38-7 lead following Proehl’s scoring grab. On the other side of the ball, the Pirates limited Gardner-Webb to just 17 total yards (-3 rushing) during the first 15 minutes while building a 17-0 cushion. Pinnix finished the night by establishing career highs in carries (21) and yards (134) while matching a personal best with a pair of touchdown runs. Mauney, a true freshman, averaged 8.2 yards per attempt after picking up 107 on 15 rushes. Ahlers completed 18 of 29 pass attempts for 195 yards and added 78 more on the ground on 10 totes. Nose tackle Alex Turner was credited with seven stops, three tackles for loss (-22 yards) and two sacks (-17 yards).

Against Non-Conference Opponents
The Pirates have produced a 43-62 (.410) regular season non-league record since 1997, which includes an 0-3 clip in 2023. Last year the Pirates posted a 3-1 mark, picking up wins against Old Dominion, Campbell and BYU while dropping the home opener to NC State. In 2021, they split their four non-conference games by 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, Houston led the Pirates to a 3-1 record – the program’s first winning non-conference showing since 2014.

Shutout Free … 315 And Counting
East Carolina will enter the Appalachian State game with an active streak of 315 games of not suffering a shutout – a school record (previous mark was 110 set from ’71-’81). The last time the Pirates were blanked was on Oct. 4, 1997 (56-0 at Syracuse). ECU’s 315-game run currently ranks among the top 10 nationally (Florida is first with 438).

Comparing 10-Year, Four-Game Results
East Carolina has started 0-3 for the second time in the last ten years. A win on Saturday would push the Pirates’ record to 1-3 for the second time in the Mike Houston era and third time since 2014. However, a setback would drop them to 0-4 for the first time since the 2004 campaign.

The Pirate National – Over 9 Million Strong
East Carolina has always been able to claim plenty of hometown support when playing at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, establishing itself among the conference attendance leaders on a near annual basis. In all, 9,449,641 fans have seen the Pirates in action since 1963 and, since the completion of a 7,000-seat expansion project in 2010 (to push capacity to 50,000), ECU has drawn 3,178,352 fans.

Band On The Run
East Carolina’s 2,218-yard rushing total in 2022 marked the program’s third-highest overall seasonal clip since 2000. During regular season action, the Pirates tallied 2,046 yards which are the third most before postseason play. A year ago, ECU totaled 1,949 yards on the ground marking (regular season) then the program’s fourth-highest regular season total during that time span. In addition, the Pirates have posted 14 200-yard rushing contests in the Mike Houston era (2/2019, 5/2020, 3/2021, 4/2022).

Looking For More Loot
Through three games this season, East Carolina is -3 in turnover margin (ECU 6/Opponents 3). A year ago, the Pirates finished with a +13 turnover margin forcing 10 fumbles, recovering nine and picked off 11 passes for 154 return yards. Against UCF, ECU forced a season-high four turnovers (3 INTs, 1 fumble) and had five multi-turnover games on the year. 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). In all, ECU still has at least one takeaway in 31 of the last 34 (and 42 of 48) contests, as well as 13 of 16 games dating back to the start of the 2022 campaign.

Analyzing The 2023 Overall Schedule
ECU’s 2023 opponents compiled an overall record of 87-67 (.565) in 2022. The Pirates’ four non-conference opponents were a combined 35-17 (.673) last season while the eight AAC teams on the state tallied a 52-50 (.510) mark. Seven programs had at least six or more wins including three teams that had 10-plus victories – Michigan (13-1), Tulane (12-2) and UTSA (11-3). Five of East Carolina’s first six opponents finished last year at or above .500.
Who went Bowling? … The Pirates’ 2023 schedule features contests against five teams who competed in bowl games last season, highlighted by Michigan’s second-straight appearance in the College Football Playoff Semifinals and Tulane’s comeback victory over USC in the Cotton Bowl … Michigan (Fiesta), Tulane (Cotton), Marshall (Myrtle Beach), UTSA (Duluth Trading Cure), and SMU (New Mexico) … Three of the Pirates’ six home games are against 2022 bowl qualifiers.
In the Final Polls… Two of ECU’s 2023 opponents finished the 2022 season in college football’s two major polls (Associated Press and USA Today/AFCA Coaches) – AAC champion Tulane (9/9) and Michigan (3/3).

Up Next
East Carolina opens play in a new-look American Athletic Conference Saturday, Sept. 30, when the Pirates head to Texas for a matchup with league newcomer Rice. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. and the game will stream live via ESPN+.