CINCINNATI, OH (ECU) - ECU got off to a slow start and never recovered as it lost to Cincinnati 56-6 on Friday in Nippert Stadium.
The Bearcats, who entered with the best defense in the American Athletic Conference, were dominant on both sides of the ball as they put the game away early. By the time ECU got on the board with a 71-yard scoring pass from Holton Ahlers to Mydreon Vines, UC already had a five-touchdown lead. It finished with a 641-303 advantage in total offense.
The Bearcats, who finished their regular season 10-2 overall and 6-2 in the American, scored on six of their eight first-half possessions and led 42-6 by halftime. They reached 10 victories for the first time since 2012.
ECU, which dropped to 3-8 overall and finished 1-7 in the American, didn't get its initial first down until its fourth possession, with 13:51 remaining in the second quarter.
"Everything that could've gone wrong did," said head coach Scottie Montgomery, whose team will conclude its season at 12 noon next Saturday, Dec. 1, at N.C. State. "We didn't play well at all. We had some opportunities (in the first half) offensively and let them go. Defensively we just didn't stop them."
UC was playing without leading running back Michael Warren (1,187 yards on 224 carries), who was a late scratch with an injured shoulder. That didn't slow the Bearcats down, though, as they took the opening kickoff and marched downfield for a touchdown on a 10-yard pass from Desmond Ridder to Jayshon Jackson.
Ridder was 5-for-6 for 76 yards on the drive, and finished 20-for-29 for 335 yards with a career-high four scores. He didn't play in the second half.
"It was a struggle all day," Montgomery said. "The physical nature of last week had a physical toll on us. Starting with (Ahlers), we got to practice him one day this week, and unfortunately he didn't come out as sharp as he could. We had some major problems in our front all night."
The Pirates went three-and-out, but forced a turnover on downs when UC was unable to convert a fourth-and-1 from the ECU 23.
Another three-and-out by ECU was followed by a 5-play, 56-yard drive by the Bearcats, capped by a 30-yard touchdown pass from Ridder to Josiah Deguara.
The Pirates again were unable to move the ball, and after taking over on their own 38 the Bearcats needed just two plays to score. A 57-yard pass from Ridder to Kahlil Lewis on the last play of the first quarter made it 21-0
"Losing Colby Gore early hurt," Montgomery said. "They had a great player (Lewis), and they took advantage of the matchup. We wanted to put Colby on him a lot, but didn't get a chance to."
Lewis finished with nine catches for 203 yards and three touchdowns.
ECU finally got a first down on its next possession, but on the ensuing play Ahlers fumbled, and UC's Arquon Bush recovered at the UC 45. Then on the next snap, Charles McClelland scored on a 55-yard run to make it 28-0. McClelland, taking Warren's spot, rushed eight times for 114 yards.
Facing fourth-and-1 from their own 34, the Pirates elected to go for it, but a botched snap under center was recovered by the Bearcats. They took advantage with a 2-yard touchdown run by Tavion Thomas, upping their lead to 35-0. Thomas ran 26 times for 106 yards.
ECU then had its best series of the game. On third-and-6 from the ECU 29, Ahlers found Vines downfield on busted coverage. All alone, he caught it at the UC 35 and streaked in for the score. However, the point-after attempt failed because of a high snap, leaving the score 35-6.
UC closed the first-half scoring on a 28-yard pass from Ridder to Lewis. In the half, UC had a 454-185 advantage in total offense, with 17 first downs to ECU's four. The Pirates had just 17 yards rushing, and Ahlers was 6-for-15 passing for 168 yards.
Ahlers, who was wearing a brace on his right knee, left the game for good with 6:00 left in the third quarter after he took a hit on an incomplete third-down pass. He finished 8-for-22 for 184 yards with a touchdown and one interception.
"He was bruised up coming into the game," Montgomery said. "It was his first game being banged up a bit, and we didn't handle it well. We didn't protect him very well. We had some musical chairs on our offensive line."
Reid Herring played the rest of the way for the Pirates and was 2-for-6 for 38 yards with a pair of interceptions. His second one was returned 36 yards for touchdown by Bush. ECU committed five turnovers overall.
In addition to Bush's touchdown, the Bearcats also got a second-half score when Lewis caught a 7-yard pass from backup quarterback Hayden Moore.
Trace Christian was the Pirates' top rusher with six carries for 25 yards, followed by Hussein Howe (9-23), Ahlers (9-21) and Anthony Scott (7-20). Trevon Brown had three catches for 45 yards and Leroy Henley had two for 40.
Aaron Ramseur and Daniel Charles led the defense with eight tackles each. Bruce Bivens had six, and Davondre Robinson, Devon Sutton, Gerard Stringer and Kendall Futrell had five. Stringer recovered a fumbled that was forced by Chance Purvis.