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Keaton Mitchell, ECU run past Tulane for signature AAC win

The Pirates ran wild all over the Green Wave on Saturday afternoon and beat Tulane for the first time in the Willie Fritz era.

NCAA Football: Tulane at East Carolina James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The Pirates (3-2) came into their AAC opener with Tulane riding a two-game win streak but were still underdogs at home against the Green Wave (1-4). A narrow victory over FCS Charleston Southern last week had some doubting if ECU could hang with the Wave. After all, the Pirates had yet to beat Tulane since Willie Fritz became the head coach. With all those questions swirling on Saturday, East Carolina running back Keaton Mitchell picked an excellent time to have a career game.

It was clear early on what kind of day it would be for Mitchell. On his first carry of the game he scampered 62 yards and helped set up the Pirates for a quick field goal, giving them the lead they would never relinquish.

NCAA Football: Charleston Southern at East Carolina
Keaton Mitchell (#25) averaged 14.8 yards per carry against the Green Wave.
James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Mitchell ran for a whopping 222 yards against the Green Wave defense and racked up two touchdowns in doing so. What’s more impressive is that the Pirates freshman did all that on 15 carries. In fact, fellow back Rahjai Harris actually saw more touches (20) but finished with just 70 yards. Tulane had absolutely no answer for Mitchell on Saturday and, because of it, their season is already in jeopardy.

East Carolina jumped out to a commanding 24-0 lead in the second quarter, but as they’ve done several times this year, Tulane responded with a flurry of points to make it a game again. Quarterback Michael Pratt led a 10-play, 75-yard drive that yielded a touchdown midway through the second frame to finally give the Green Wave their first points of the day.

Pratt, who finished with 268 passing yards, orchestrated another long drive that ended in another touchdown early in the second half. Shortly after, Green Wave running back Cameron Carroll pushed in for a one-yard touchdown and Pratt converted the two-point try with his legs. It was 31-23 in favor of ECU late in the third. Tulane was showing some fight but big plays, their bugaboo all day, ended up being their downfall.

Pirates receiver Tyler Snead had hauled in a 53-yard bomb for a touchdown earlier in the game, Mitchell had already turned in a 68-yard scoring run of his own and finally put the nail in the coffin with a 30-yard touchdown run late in the fourth. The Pirates held on for the decisive and somewhat surprising 52-29 victory and, in doing so, left Tulane with some serious soul searching to do.

What a statement win for Mike Houston and his team. The victory over Marshall earlier in the season was big but to dismantle a Tulane team that many thought could be a contender for an AAC title this year? That’s something special. Mitchell is clearly a cornerstone for years to come for this Pirates club and quarterback Holton Ahlers finally appeared to shake off the slow start to his season with a 288-yard, two-touchdown day and no interceptions. Things are looking up in Greenville to say the least.

As for Tulane, this is as disheartening as a loss as they’ve faced in quite some time. The earlier defeats at the hands of P5 schools and even the UAB loss were all understandable but this is a problem. The Pirates absolutely exposed the defense that allowed over 600 yards of total offense. Pratt threw three interceptions, tying the most he’s ever thrown in a single game since becoming the starter.

It’s rough right now in the Big Easy and Fritz has a tall task in front of him in trying to rally his team that’s lost three straight to turn the season around. The schedule doesn’t get any easier from here, and there’s glaring issues that need to be addressed on both sides of the ball. For now we need to table the talk of an AAC Championship berth or returning to a bowl game.

Up Next: Tulane will work on a short week as they return home on Thursday night to face Houston. Kickoff against the Cougars is set for 6:30 PM CT.

East Carolina will hit the road next weekend to take on UCF in the Bounce House. Kickoff will take place at 6:00 PM ET.