For the second consecutive game, ECU’s football team got off to a quick start. For the second consecutive game, ECU lost by multiple scores, this time on the road against Georgia State by a score of 49-29.

“Obviously very disappointed in the loss,” head coach Mike Houston said postgame. “They were exactly the team that I thought they were. Hats off to them, they’ve done a great job building that program, they look like a very experienced group. Very good up front on both sides of the football. Obviously we did not handle that atmosphere and them very well in the first half and got ourselves in a pretty big hole.”

It was a wild ride to get to the conclusion of Saturday’s game with the Pirates scoring on a fake field goal and blocked punt within a two-minute span in the fourth quarter. Trailing 42-16 before Tyler Snead tucked a hold on a potential field goal and ripped Georgia State for 31 yards, ECU scored in almost every way possible, except the offensive variety.

A pick six by defensive back Warren Saba on Georgia State’s very first offensive play set the tone for the visiting Pirates, but 28 straight points by the Panthers quickly extinguished that flame. Across back-to-back-to-back drives in the first quarter, Georgia State, with the help of Cornelious Brown, Sam Pinckney and Destin Coates, engineered drives of 75, 61 and 61 yards and hung a quick 21 points on the Pirates in the first quarter.

On a day that the Pirates were without senior offensive lineman D’Ante Smith, quarterback Holton Ahlers was forced out of the pocket numerous times as the Panthers logged four sacks and nine total tackles for loss. Replacing Smith on ECU’s left side of the line was UNC transfer Avery Jones, while Nishad Strother earned the start at left tackle.

The pressure from Georgia State, however, came from every angle and gap up front and played a large role in the Pirates racking up just 128 yards of offense in the first half. Only 25 of those yards came on the ground as ECU struggled to get its quartet of running backs operating following a 244-yard performance against UCF a week ago.

“We still got Noah (Henderson) and D’Ante out, that’s two of our more experienced guys,” Houston said. “Have some new guys in there. Have some guys playing well, but also some guys making some mistakes. We’ve got to get that corrected and we got to play better up front. It all starts offensively right there.”

All told, Snead ended up being ECU’s leading rusher with his special teams run, accounting for 31 of his team’s 50 overall rushing yards on the afternoon.

Despite not sticking the football in the end zone offensively, the Pirates used the right leg of Jake Verity and the aforementioned special teams magic to stay competitive down the stretch. With 8:07 left in the fourth quarter, ECU found themselves down only 13 points, but the hole proved too great in the end.

A six-play, 37-yard drive scoring drive by Georgia State cemented the game for the home squad after ECU was forced into a turnover on downs attempting to sneak back into the contest.

On the run for much of the day, Ahlers could never really find his footing throwing the football. At times his accuracy was questionable, while the consistent pressure by the Panthers oftentimes forced him into uncomfortable or quick throws.

“In my opinion, the way you get your quarterback his best opportunities is by being able to run the football effectively and protect him in the passing game,” Houston said. “We’re not doing either one very well. On his back, he’s got to make better decisions. He’s making some decisions that are really putting us in some tough situations. We’ve got to coach better and we’ve got to play better on that side of the football, definitely.”

Late in the third quarter and into the fourth, ECU seemed to find something offensively while forcing five straight stops on the defensive end of things. Those stops included two Panther turnovers, but resulted only in three points for an otherwise struggling Pirate offense.

With a slew of quick passes and some ball movement late in the game, Ahlers ended the day with 242 yards through the air. It took 50 passes for him to eclipse that total as he failed to find the end zone and tossed three interceptions.

The recipients of Ahlers’ passes were Snead and Blake Proehl. Combined that duo accounted for 29 targets, 22 catches and 194 receiving yards a week after no ECU receiver caught more than three balls.

All told, the Pirates were outgained 485 to 292 and went a dismal 5-for-17 on third down conversions. For the second consecutive game, ECU was flagged 11 times, this time for 97 yards, and averaged less than four years per offensive play.

Despite allowing just 182 yards of offense to Georgia State in the second half, ECU had already dug itself too big of a hole, having allowed 35 first half points.

“You felt like you got in such a big hole there in the first half, it just makes it really, really tough,” Houston said. “Certainly we made a couple special teams plays there in the second half that got us back in the ball game, played well defensively. We’ve just got to be better. We’ve got to be better coaches, we’ve got to be better players, we got to execute better. We’ve got to push ourselves to continue to improve.”

Brown was sharp for the Panthers, going 18-for-28 with 238 yards and three touchdowns. Pinckney, his top target on the day, hauled in seven catches for 134 yards and two scores, while Coates registered his yet another 100-yard performance on the ground.

In two games this season, the Pirates have yielded a combined 100 points to their opponents and well over 1,000 yards of offense. While ECU’s offensive line played well against UCF, the absence of Smith and Henderson was felt greatly in both the pass blocking and run game on Saturday.

“Appreciate the way the kids fought back, and we at least got ourselves back in the game somewhat and gave ourselves a chance to maybe have shot there at the end,” Houston said. “Couple mistakes there in the second half, fourth quarter that just took our chances away. Obviously we got to do a better job of preparing the group for the start of the football game. After the pick six, which is as good a start as you can ask for, we did not handle everything very well.”

ECU will go back to the drawing board this week in preparation for next Saturday’s matchup against USF in Tampa, Florida. Kick-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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