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Pirates frustrated following 5th loss in a row

GREENVILLE — Frustrations abound for East Carolina head coach Scottie Montgomery. His team has now lost five straight games after the team’s 31-19 loss to Cincinnati Saturday night.

The road loss to the Bearcats is a microcosm of the Pirates’ season and was filled with untimely penalties and turnovers that ultimately puts the team on the brink of missing out on a bowl game for the second straight season.

However, Montgomery said morale hasn’t been an issue despite the recent woes and that his team was more than motivated to spoil Cincinnati’s homecoming. A hot start and an early scoring drive perhaps confirms the belief.

“We thought we had our team in a really good spot coming into the game. The locker room was on fire,” he said at Monday’s press conference. “The first drive was definitely a great drive to start on but one of the frustrating things is that we didn’t get a touchdown there. And then when we came back out of the locker room at half time, we were on fire again.”

In terms of turning points in the game, the first-year coach didn’t need to look much further than Corey Seargent’s interception late in the third quarter that was waved off because of a pass interference call. It marked the second straight game that the Pirates had an interception called back, but this time there seemed to be no blatant penalty on the play.

Instead of taking over deep in Cincinnati territory, Bearcats quarterback Gunner Kiel connected on a deep ball the next play, beating Seargent and setting up another score to put ECU in a deeper hole.

“The most frustrating time in the game is when you realize that you have a penalty to negate an interception for the second week in a row,” he said. “For a coach, it’s frustrating, especially when you have guys try to do exactly what you coach them to do. To have those back-to-back weeks were we have interceptions turn into big returns, and to get the ball into the strike zone on both of them, and to have that not happen, that was a big, big problem.”

But it wasn’t just the penalty that kept ECU from taking the lead late in the game. Though Seargent’s interception would have set the Pirates up with a chance to take their first lead since the opening drive, a fourth-quarter fumble by running back Anthony Scott spelled doom for ECU.

“The fumble going into the red zone was heartbreaking for a lot of reasons,” Montgomery said. “We kind of moved Anthony into a back up role and James (Summers) needed a spell, and James comes out and Anthony had done a good job in practice taking care of the ball, and for that to happen is very hurtful. He fumbled the ball going into the red zone once again, he had a fumble early in the game where the team rallied around him and told him we wanted him in the game. For it to end like that for him, that was tough.”

Scott’s struggles to hold on to the ball this season have been a thorn in the side of a Pirate offense that has been anemic in the red zone. For Montgomery, he said a change in personnel at the position will be needed moving forward.

“Right now what you’re going to see is Shawn Furlow,” Montgomery said. “We wanted to give Shawn some chances, but unfortunately, he hasn’t been quite ready. We’re going to keep Anthony Scott with us, we’re going to need but right now we’re going to move to see a little more Shawn Furlow, Devin (Anderson) and James.”

 

HOW IT HAPPENED:

 

Cincinnati’s stuff on James Summers’ fourth-and-one try with 4:36 left in the game sealed the Bearcats’ homecoming victory and gave East Carolina its fifth straight loss.

The 31-19 loss was marred by late-game penalties and turnovers. Running back Anthony Scott went on an 11-yard scamper to the Bearcats 16-yard line, down 24-19 late in the fourth, before a Cincinnati defender knocked the ball loose. The squandered scoring chance cost the Pirates an opportunity to take their first lead of the game since going ahead 3-0 lead on the game’s opening drive.

ECU got a timely defensive stop on the ensuing Cincinnati possession before Summers failed to convert the fourth-down run. From there, senior quarterback Gunner Kiel orchestrated a 59-yard scoring drive, capping off a four-touchdown performance and putting the game out of reach.

Offensively, ECU continued its theme of racking up big yards but failing to find the end zone. Though it converted both of its red zone attempts, the scores resulted in field goals by kicker Davis Plowman.

Pirate quarterback Philip Nelson finished 28-of-43 for 283 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Senior receiver Zay Jones continued his potentially record-setting performance, hauling in 11 receptions for 69 yards. Washington’s own Jimmy Williams accumulated 129 yards on seven receptions and accounted for ECU’s only two touchdowns on the day.

Though stopped on the crucial fourth down, Summers was a bright spot, with 95 rushing yards on 21 carries in the half back position. He also grabbed three catches and tacked on 26 yards.

Defensively, ECU had to deal with an injury to cornerback Corey Seargent late in the third quarter, shortly after he had an interception called of because of pass interference. The penalty was one of four for the Pirates, but represented another squandered opportunity, as it would have set ECU up for a chance to take the lead.

Seargent finished tied for first in tackles for ECU with eight, alongside safety Travon Simmons and linebackers Yiannis Bowden and Terrell Richardson.

The loss sends ECU to 2-5 and 0-4 in American Athletic Conference play. The Pirates now stand on the brink of bowl elimination for the second straight season.