Cougars sink Pirates in Homecoming victory
The Cougars won their second consecutive game and became bowl eligible with their 52-27 victory over East Carolina on Saturday at TDECU Stadium.
Houston is now one step closer to a bowl berth with its win over East Carolina and now stands 6-3 with two games left. Sophomore quarterback D’Eriq King started his first game, leading the offense to 45 points, 550 total yards and 15:24 time of possession while he was on the field. The defense also took advantage of the 2-6 team and held it to just 27 points.
“It feels great to be bowl eligible,” said head coach Major Applewhite in a news conference after the game. “Proud of the guys and the way they worked. We were concerned about how they would respond, but obviously we did well. We had a good practice this week, started out playing well, and I was proud of the way they played early to set themselves up for a victory.”
The Pirates won the toss to begin the game and elected to defer to the second half, giving the ball to the Cougars to start the game. Houston didn’t waste time and scored on its first possession behind the dynamic play of King, ending the drive with a rushing touchdown by the sophomore quarterback.
Applewhite opened up the playbook this week and relied on King’s arm as well as his legs. In his first start, King dropped back to pass 21 times and looked to his wide receivers more before deciding to run.
The result of the new-look offense was 21 points in the first quarter. Junior running back Duke Catalon rushed for a score and 56 yards in the first quarter, and King had a rushing score and one passing touchdown to Courtney Lark.
The Cougars’ defense also looked formidable, albeit against a lesser team, on Saturday. It managed to hold the Pirates to 44 yards in the first quarter and allowed only one third-down conversion on four attempts.
The second quarter saw the Pirates gain momentum. They managed to score 10 points in one quarter to come within 18 points of Houston after they made a switch at quarterback.
ECU junior quarterback Gardner Minshew came in after a poor performance by starter Thomas Sirk and immediately made an impact. Despite coming in later, Minshew finished the first half with 240 yards and one touchdown.
The Pirates continued their momentum in the second half. Minshew drove ECU down the field and scored easily to make the score 28-17, making it a two-score game.
“We talk about it as a team all the time,” Applewhite said. “Football is like being out in a giant driveway and you are playing a game of horse. A guy hits a shot, you got to hit it. A guy hits another, you have to hit it again. Now he misses, and it’s your turn to put them on the defense. That was kind of what was going on.”
The Cougars answered back quickly with a 75-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Steven Dunbar, the longest of his career. King followed that with yet another big pass for a touchdown, this time to senior wide receiver Linell Bonner for 62 yards, giving the Cougars a 42-17 lead with less than five minutes left in the third quarter.
King looked poised all game and showed flashes of Greg Ward Jr. out on the field. Despite Applewhite’s attempt at a more traditional offense with quarterbacks Kyle Allen and Kyle Postma, it seems like he is destined to coach a team with a dynamic option quarterback.
“I was comfortable in the pocket today,” King said. “The offensive line did a great job, and the wide receivers got open, so I was pretty comfortable.”
King sat out the rest of the game after posting 330 passing yards and three touchdowns to go along with another rushing touchdown. Both starting wide receivers have benefited from the change at quarterback, and both showed up big on the stats sheet on Saturday.
“I feel like we have a good relationship since I got on campus,” King said. “I feel like me playing receiver helped us get closer. I kind of know what those guys are going to since I played wide receiver, so it helped a lot.”
Dunbar led the receiving group with 171 yards and a touchdown, followed by Bonner with 147 yards and a touchdown. Allen closed the game at quarterback for the Cougars.
UH ended the game with one of its best performances of the year on the back of the new starting quarterback. Now bowl eligible, The Cougars go on the road to face Tulane in New Orleans next Saturday.