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Wednesday, October 4, 2023


UH upsets ECU in conference play

The Cougars saw Saturday’s game against then-No. 23 East Carolina as another season. A second chance. A clean slate.

Houston chalked up its first road win under first-year head coach Kevin Sumlin and upset the Pirates 41-24 before 43,641 at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in Greenville, N.C.; snapping its three-game losing streak.

What it came down to, UH senior defensive end Phillip Hunt said, was desire.

"Everybody knew we were a 1-3 team and we wanted to get the season turned around on them," he said. "We wanted to win the game more than they did, basically."

In their last three losses, the Cougars (2-3, 1-0 C-USA) did not get off to a quick start offensively and had to rely on making up deficits in the second half. Against ECU (3-2, 1-1 C-USA), the Cougars outscored the Pirates 21-10 in the first half and held ECU’s offense to 94 yards, forcing ECU senior quarterback Patrick Pinkney into six incomplete passes. He finished the game with 100 yards and one touchdown on 10-of-20 passing and one interception.

"We felt like we had to come out early and get on them," Hunt said. "We just wanted to get off the ball and put pressure on them."

Hunt recorded two sacks, forced one fumble and had a tackle for a loss in the Cougars’ victory. The Cougars held ECU to 274 yards and forced three fumbles in the game.

The Cougar defense made big plays when it needed them. On third and two from ECU’s 40-yard line, UH junior linebacker Matt Nicholson stopped ECU senior running back Brandon Simmons in the backfield to force a punt and put ECU’s tired defense back on the field to close out the third quarter.

Sophomore quarterback Case Keenum capitalized on the defensive stop. On the second down on the Cougars’ 16 yard-line, Keenum eluded ECU defenders in the backfield to find sophomore wide receiver Kierrie Johnson at the 50. Johnson (4 catches for 104 yards) skipped untouched into the endzone to give UH a 31-17 lead with 14:06 left to play.

The Cougars followed the score with one of Hunt’s sacks on Pinkney, which led to a 4-yard touchdown run for freshman running back Bryce Beall with 12:04 remaining. Beall ended the game with a career-high 135 yards and two touchdowns.

"(The offense) usually puts up a lot of points and it wins games for us," Hunt said. "But from a defensive standpoint for us to just step up in the game and take total control of it – it felt good. It felt great."

The offense was making a statement of its own. Keenum found three different receivers in the endzone on his way to a career-best 399 yards on 36-of-44 passing, despite turning the ball over three times. His target of choice was redshirt freshman wide receiver Patrick Edwards, who ended the night with 146 yards and a touchdown.

Beall said if he and the other backs can contribute to the offense the way they did Saturday, things will continue to get easier for Keenum and his wideouts as they continue conference play in their next seven games.

"We have an electrifying offense," Beall said. "Our quarterback is real good, and our passing game is real good. If we can mix in some runs with that, it just makes our offense that much more lethal."

Beall said the Cougars’ slow start on the season has been forgotten and they are ready to utilize the schemes Sumlin has implemented.

"It was a great team win. I was really proud of how our defense bounced back after the way that people have been on them. We’re finally getting guys to play in the system," he said.

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