ECU defense can’t run with Bulls

Published 4:23 pm Saturday, September 30, 2017

GREENVILLE — East Carolina quarterback Thomas Sirk dove over the mass of humanity separating him from the end zone a yard away. It cut the Pirates’ deficit to 38-31 with 6:31 remaining in the third quarter. No. 18 South Florida responded with 24 unanswered points to run away with a 61-31 win in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

That leaping score was the last of four accounted for by Sirk. A designed play saw him jump up and dump a pass off to tight end Steve Baggett as the first half came to a close. It made it a 31-24 game at intermission.

Optimism was scarce, though. ECU’s defense was unable to make a stop on Saturday afternoon. The Bulls were turnover free until a fumble in the waning moments of the game. They punted just twice and earned points on all eight trips to the red zone.

“We didn’t have enough, in the end, to play with them at the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth quarter and throughout the fourth quarter,” ECU head coach Scottie Montgomery said.

ECU’s 414 yards of total offense were the most given up by South Florida through five games this season. Offense allowed for the Pirates to hang around, but a few key mistakes kept them from catching up.

Sirk and Davon Grayson, after connecting for three touchdowns at Connecticut six days prior, linked up for a 31-yard score to cut USF’s lead to 14-10 in the first. After a rare stop by the Pirate defense, the Bulls took the wind out of ECU’s sails when Auggie Sanchez nabbed a pass off the hands of Quay Johnson and took it back 43 yards for a touchdown.

That 4-point deficit was as close as ECU would get.

“It’s always, I wouldn’t say frustrating, but you’re kind of like, ‘dadgumit,’” defensive back Korrin Wiggins said of whether or not the defense got hung up on not being able to slow the Bulls. “You’re trying to play the next play and support the offense and special teams.”

D’Erne Johnson and Quinton Flowers rushed for a combined 214 yards and three touchdowns. Two other South Florida running backs also scored as the Bulls largely kept to the ground.

Sirk completed 20-of-43 passing attempts for 302 yards and two touchdowns. He was intercepted twice. Sirk also led the Pirates in rushing with 18 carries for 87 yards and a pair of scores. Grayson eclipsed the 100-yard mark and had the lone receiving touchdown.