East Carolina beats William & Mary, but questions remain on offense and defense

ECU beats William & Mary on Saturday.
ECU beats William & Mary on Saturday.

East Carolina’s football team improved to 2-2 with a 19-7 win over William & Mary on Saturday night at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, but one-third through the season there are as many offensive questions as defensive questions for the Pirates.

The Pirates didn’t manage a two-score lead on their Football Championship Subdivision opponent until Jake Verity kicked his third of four field goals for a 16-7 lead with 11:03 remaining in the contest. ECU’s offense has struggled with consistency, with the exception of beating overmatched FCS foe Gardner-Webb 48-9 in the home opener.

“We’ll look at the film, and we’ve got 4 million mistakes we’ve got to corrected,” ECU coach Mike Houston said. “But the way the kids competed in the second half, the way they fought to overcome adversity, the way we played defense and the way we ran the ball in the fourth quarter, that’s what you’ve got to do to win ball games.”

Only Football Bowl Subdivision opponents remain on the schedule, starting with a trip to Old Dominion next week, followed by seven AAC contests. ECU’s only conference win last year in a 3-9 record was over hapless Connecticut.

The offense was supposed to be ahead of the defense with sophomore quarterback Holton Ahlers back under center, but ECU still hasn’t found a rhythm to steadily move the ball. The Pirates scored only one touchdown in losses to N.C. State (34-6) and Navy (42-10).

Despite 480 total yards against the Tribe, the Pirates were inconsistent after a game-opening, 75-yard drive in nine plays for a 7-0 lead. Tight end Anthony Watley caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from Ahlers,

The next three possessions ended in punts, with two of them a three-and-out.

“I’m so proud of our kids,” Houston said. “It was a great win in our stadium. I’ll chew them out tomorrow, but tonight we’re going to enjoy this.”

First down

Junior running back Darius Pinnix missed his second game in a row with a neck injury that has been slow to respond to treatment, but backups Tay Williams and Trace Christian combined for 162 yards rushing. Christian carried 14 times for 91 yards and Williams carried five times for 72 yards.

“We probably don’t win the game without those kids giving us a spark in the second half,” Houston said.


Tight end Anthony Watley’s first catch of the year was also his first first career touchdown when he was open over the middle for a 20-yard score. He extended his arms across the goal-line plane as he was tackled.


William & Mary freshman quarterback Hollis Mathis was touted an explosive dual threat, but the Tribe’s first touchdown came with Mathis out of the game. After he was slow to get up after a hit, backup Kilton Anderson led a second-quarter nine-play, 76-yard scoring drive to tie the score at 7, but the possession needed the help of a roughing-the-passer penalty. Anderson’s third-and-15 pass from the ECU 35 fell incomplete, but the penalty was good for a first down at the 20. Taylor Crist broke off a scoring run on the next play.


John Spellacy’s comeback season now includes his first start this year. The junior center started eight games as a true freshman and six last year until a concussion ended his season. He missed spring drills and his career was in doubt until he was cleared last summer. Specialists not associated with ECU determined he was at no more risk than any other player. Senior Branden Pena started the first three games, but the two have been sharing time.

Key numbers

9-of-11: The only two field goals Jake Verity has missed this year are both beyond 50 yards. The returning All-AAC kicker hit from 31, 33, 22 and 45 yards, but his 55-yard attempt as time expired at halftime was wide right. His other miss was a 52-yarder at N.C. State, but he has hit from 52 twice in his career.

3: ECU’s number of fourth-down defensive stops.

5: Tyler Snead was more involved with the offense this week, leading the team with five catches for 67 yards. He had only five receptions in the first three games.

21: Trace Christian got the Pirates out of hole from their 1-yard line with a 21-yard gain up the middle on first down. The Pirates only led 10-7 at the time.

2: Number of national titles won by the two head coaches. Both ECU’s Mike Houston and William & Mary’s Mike London claimed Football Championship Subdivision titles. Houston won at James Madison in 2016 and London at Richmond in 2008.

260: ECU limited William & Mary to 260 total yards after allowing Navy 468 last week.

38,004: ECU’s attendance was up from 34,118 in the home opener against Gardener-Webb, but fans may be waiting for progress in the AAC standings to top 40,000 in 50,000-seat Dowdy-Ficklen. ECU averaged only 32,908 last year, a decline that contributed to former coach Scotty Montgomery’s dismissal.