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People outside of East Carolina’s football program may scoff at the notion of a fourth win being a milestone achievement, but those that have lived through the results the past few years understand just what it would mean to the Pirates.
ECU has been stuck on three wins not only since the fifth game of this season under first-year head coach Mike Houston, but the Pirates were unable to surpass that win total in any of the three seasons former coach Scottie Montgomery led the program previously, going 3-9 each year.
The Pirates sat at 3-2 following a road win at Old Dominion on Sept. 28, but despite some close calls along the way, have been unable to achieve win No. 4 since. ECU has lost five games in a row heading into this Saturday’s matchup at Connecticut, which is around a two-touchdown underdog to the Pirates.
“You can’t do anything until you get the fourth,” Houston said. “That’s kind of been our deal the past couple of weeks. I think it’s an important deal for our kids. If you ask those guys how important it is, they’ll tell you. It’s a big deal for us.”
East Carolina has not reached the four-win plateau since the 2015 season when Ruffin McNeill went 5-7 before being fired. It may not seem like much, but getting the 3-9 monkey off their backs would be a nice step in the right direction for a Pirates’ program that’s now suffered through five straight losing seasons.
“That’s our goal, is to just keep winning,” senior offensive lineman Fernando Frye said. “That fourth one would be huge for us, a big goal completed for us.”
ECU won’t make a bowl game. The Pirates could defeat both UConn on the road this Saturday and top Tulsa on Nov. 30 at home, and the 5-7 record still wouldn’t be enough to make them bowl eligible. But that doesn’t mean the Pirates don’t have a lot to play for.
“We’re definitely hungry for another win,” Frye said. “We’re continually progressing to get better. Each week, I see us doing that.”
The Pirates (3-7, 0-6 AAC), just like the Huskies (2-8, 0-6) are seeking their first win of the season in American Athletic Conference play. East Carolina hosts Tulsa the following weekend on Nov. 30 to wrap up the regular season. Some see the next two games as a potential path to reach five wins, but the Pirates must take care of business in Connecticut first.
“I think this weekend’s game with UConn is just like every game we’ve played this year,” Houston said. “It’s the biggest game of the year to us. It’s the only one we’ve got this week. Our preparations will be just like they have been and I think our kids have done a great job of embracing that one game at a time, one play at a time attitude. If you can ever get your team to focus that intently, consistently together, then you start seeing better results. But you can’t get caught up in anything else except what’s right in front of you.”
COLD WEATHER CHALLENGE
Saturday’s forecast of high temperatures in the mid-40s and lows around 30 degrees in East Hartford, Connecticut, means the Pirates will play their coldest game of the season at Rentschler Field.
The good news is it could be worse. The last time ECU played a November game at Connecticut in 2015, the temperature at kickoff was below freezing. But the noon kickoff Saturday alleviates much of the concern regarding potential game-altering conditions.
“At the end of the day, you’re not talking about extreme temperatures on Saturday,” Houston said.
You’re talking about temperatures in the 40s and cloudy — that’s this time of year.”
Houston’s team has spent the past week and a half practicing in similar temperatures in Greenville. The Pirates also worked through miserable cold and rainy conditions a few times during the bye week to further prepare for the upcoming game in the Northeast.
“I think wherever you look across the country, teams that can play well late in the year when the conditions may not be ideal, those are the teams that win championships,” Houston said. “It’s one of our goals to develop teams that do this. I can reference so many games over our career. We’ve had some brutal weather for games before that our teams really thrived in. That’s the reason we’ve had some of the success late in the year that we’ve had and it’s something that we want to establish here.”
VERITY SETS SCHOOL RECORDS
It’s been a banner year for ECU redshirt junior kicker Jake Verity, who set the program’s single-season and career record for most field goals with his recent performance in the 59-51 loss to SMU.
Verity, who made three field goals against SMU, has now connected on 58 field goals in 74 career attempts, surpassing Ben Hartman (57 of 88), who played at ECU from 2006-09. Verity’s 22nd field goal of the year at SMU also surpassed Hartman’s 21 makes from the 2008 season.
Verity’s 78.4% conversion rate ranks second all-time to Michael Barbour (80%).
“I do think that we all come to expect great performances from him and I think he expects it from himself,” Houston said. “I said it last spring, I think he’s the best kicker I’ve ever had. I thought that as soon as I saw him kick live because he has that pop coming off his foot. The ball gets up quick, he has excellent accuracy and nothing really rattles him. He’s had a really solid season, I’m glad he’s here with us and I’m glad he has another year.”
The 2-8 overall record may not show it, but the UConn Huskies have made strides since last season’s abysmal 1-11 display that included the worst statistical defensive performance in FBS history.
UConn has been fairly competitive at home, defeating FCS foe Wagner, and playing Illinois and Houston to one-score games at Rentschler Field. The Huskies have a talented running back in Kevin Mensah, who’s tallied 918 rushing yards and nine touchdowns this season. Backup running back Art Thompkins is also explosive with some speed he brings to the table.
The Huskies have rotated three quarterbacks all year due to inconsistent play and injuries, but are expected to get back redshirt freshman Steven Krajewski from injury for the ECU game.
“If you just flip on the film, watch them and don’t worry about anything else other than the film, you look and it’s a really good football team,” Houston said. “I think offensively, the thing that stands out is a big, strong offensive line. Mensah is on his way to 1,000 yards rushing this year. The backup, Thompkins, has been a good change-up and has been very productive.”
Stephen Igoe is the publisher of the East Carolina 247Sports website Hoist The Colours. Check out more of his work at eastcarolina.247sports.com.