The Cougars managed to open the season at home with a come-from-behind win last week, but the East Carolina Pirates’ two-point lead in the fourth quarter proved too much for the Cougars to overcome as Houston fell to East Carolina 37-35 in Saturday’s game.
The Cougars’ performance this Saturday stands in stark contrast to their play against Colorado State University last week.
In the game against the Rams, senior kicker T.J. Lawrence hit all five point-after-touchdowns and nailed a 46-yard field goal to help the Cougars win. Lawrence was named the Conference USA Special Teams Player of the Week for his flawless performance.
On Saturday, however, Lawrence failed to score on any of his attempts. He was blocked on a 49-yard field goal attempt by East Carolina sophomore defensive lineman C.J. Wilson in the second quarter and missed two field goal attempts in the final two minutes of the game. Lawrence went wide left on his first field goal attempt in the fourth quarter, and wide right on his last attempt of the night.
"In the first one I felt a little bit of pressure on the right side and I felt like I had to rush it, when really that’s not what I need to be worrying about. I need to worry about the kick," Lawrence said. "On the second one, I guess I tried to overcompensate for hooking the right one so I hit it off the end of my toe and just pushed it right."
Lawrence was not the only Cougar whose performance made a 180-degree turn since last week.
Against the Rams, redshirt-freshman quarterback Case Keenum threw for 197 yards on 18-of-22 passing and ran for two touchdowns. As a result of that performance, he was named the Division I National Sports Performer of the Week by collegesportsreport.com and earned the starting position, but failed to produce against the Pirates.
Keenum completed only 6-of-11 passes for 95 yards and was intercepted twice in the first half. Sophomore quarterback Blake Joseph replaced Keenum in the second quarter and finished the game.
Joseph ended the night with 250 yards on 24-of-29 passing, including two for touchdowns.
"I came in and worked real hard and tried to match what Case did last week, but… we ended up not winning the game," Joseph said.
In addition to Joseph’s solid performance, senior wide receiver Donnie Avery achieved some personal bests to help the Cougars score.
Avery finished with 350 all-purpose yards on the night, putting him second on the list for single-game totals all time at UH.
He also scored three touchdowns, including a 100-yard kickoff return to end the third quarter and bring the Cougars within two points.
"We had some guys step up, but it’s just a shame that it’s all for naught, because winning is the only thing that’s important," head coach Art Briles said. "It shouldn’t have to come down to those last two kicks. If we take care of the ball earlier in the game, then it doesn’t come down to that."
The Cougars also started off badly against the Pirates. Houston finished the game with eight penalties, including four in the first quarter, for a loss of 72 yards.
"We battled field position all night. We dug ourselves into a hole with turnovers and a lack of execution, and it ultimately caught up with us in the end," Briles said.
Joseph’s performance put the Cougars ahead by one at halftime, but the Cougars could not hang on to the lead in the second half.
Houston was trailing by two in the final two minutes of the game and had two chances to score, but did not convert either opportunity into points.
The 20,719 in attendance at Robertson fell silent when Lawrence failed to give the Cougars a lead with 1:55 left in Saturday’s game, missing a 37-yard field goal attempt.
The noise rose to a deafening roar when the Cougar defense managed to stop the Pirates on third down on the ensuing drive and gave Houston another chance to score, but silence fell again when Lawrence missed his final field goal attempt at 38 yards with 8 seconds left in the game to put the final score at 37-35 as the Cougars dropped their second game overall and first game at home of the season.