On a night that the running game was non-existent versus a talented Florida defense, the East Carolina Pirates nearly found a way to pull the upset in falling 31-24 to the Florida Gators.
From the first snap, it was extremely evident that the Florida defense would not be pushed around by the experienced East Carolina offensive line. Quarterback Blake Kemp (34-54/333/3TD) looked like a seasoned quarterback in leading the Pirates on an eight-play, 75-yard opening drive that was capped by a 31-yard touchdown pass to Davin Grayson (4/56/1TD). With the extra point, ECU led 7-0.
After stuffing the Gators offense on the first drive, ECU's defense was unable to overcome bad field position due to a poor punt with Austin Hardin drillling a 37-yard field goal to pull the Gators to a deficit of 7-3. The Gators finally found the end zone with :49 left in the opening quarter on a 32-yard touchdown pass to take a 10-7 lead after one quarter.
Defense was the name of the game in the second quarter with both teams combining for a paltry 67 total yards. The Pirates lucked out as a fumble gave Florida a 34-yard field goal attempt that was missed, one of two missed Gators field goals in the quarter. At the half, Florida led East Carolina 10-7.
Needing a momentum swing after giving up 10 consecutive points, defensive back Bobby Fulp stepped in front of a Will Grier pass at the Florida 29-yard-line, retuning it two yards to the 27. One play later, Kemp went deep to Isaiah Jones (14/135/1TD) that gave the Pirates the lead once again at 14-10.
That lead was short lived as Florida marched 57 yards in eight plays to retake the lead at 17-14. Disaster struck shortly afterwards as Kemp was intercepted by Jalen Tabor on the ECU 39-yard-line, with the defensive back taking the ball back for a touchdown to give Florida their biggest lead of the day at 24-14.
The Pirates defense, coming up big all night, was able to make one more play with Demetri McGill recovering a FLorida fumble on the Gators 34-yard-line. Five plays later, Davis Plowman drilled a 30-yard field goal to cut the Florida lead to 24-17. After the Gators extended the lead to 14 at 31-17, Kemp hit tight end Bryce Williams for a seven-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 31-24 with 3:04 left in the game.
Using their timeouts wisely, ECU's defense forced a three-and-out with a chance to win the game. The Pirates drove to the Florida 13-yard-line but saw hopes of an upset fall to the wayside with the Florida defense forcing a Kemp fumble that ended the game at 31-24 in favor of Florida.
Let's take a look at the positives and negative of the ECU performance versus Florida.
Kemp Passing The Ball: Blake Kemp had no running game to support him tonight and was able to still pass for 333 yards versus a very talented Florida defense. His one interception was a back breaker, but the rest of his play was very good in the loss.
The Defensive Play: Whether it was forcing missed field goals or picking off passes or recovering fumbles, the ECU defense did everything in its power to keep the Pirates in the game. Florida finished the game with only 373 total yards and only 24 points scored by the offense while committing two turnovers.
Top Receivers Stepping Up: Kemp connected on 23 passes for 218 yards and two touchdowns to Isaiah Jones and Bryce Williams (9/83/1TD) on the day. Both are award candidates and showed up strong versus a stiff test from Florida.
Rushing Game: Running the ball versus Florida was going to be tough sledding no matter what, but a 22-carry, -13-yard performance is unacceptable. Chris Hairston (17/15/0TD) was held to 0.9 yards per carry on the night.
Turnovers: Three turnovers are three too many versus a team like Florida with one directly resulting in seven points for the Gators. Another turnover was saved by a missed 30-yard field goal. The final turnover resulted in the end of the game.
Player of the Game: Blake Kemp: Despite fumbling on the final drive and thrown a pick-six, Kemp played well overall for a team that had no running game at all.
Play of the Game: The pick-six. Not all plays of the game can be positive. ECU was driving to take the lead in the third quarter and the errant pass returned for a touchdown put the Pirates in a hole they could not dig out of.