Pirates Fall to Cougars, 41-24

UABSPORTS.COM Zack Slate strips the ball from Houston quarterback Chris Pilot. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)
Zack Slate strips the ball from Houston quarterback Chris Pilot. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

Sept. 27, 2008

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GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) -- Case Keenum threw for 399 yards and three touchdowns, and Houston earned its first win against a ranked opponent in a dozen years by beating No. 23 East Carolina 41-24 on Saturday.

Patrick Edwards had 11 catches for 146 yards and a score for the Cougars (2-3, 1-0 Conference USA), who had no trouble moving the ball and finished with 621 total yards. Bryce Beall ran for 132 yards and two touchdowns, and Houston's defense didn't allow the Pirates to score an offensive touchdown until midway through the third quarter.

Houston never trailed, building a 21-10 halftime lead and then getting a long touchdown catch from Kierrie Johnson early in the fourth quarter to turn away the Pirates' rally hopes.

The win ended Houston's 18-game losing streak against ranked opponents since a 56-49 overtime win against then-No. 20 Southern Mississippi in November 1996. It is Houston's first road win against a ranked foe since beating No. 3 Texas 29-15 in November 1984.

East Carolina (3-2, 1-1) had upset Virginia Tech and West Virginia to open the season and earn a national ranking for the first time in nine years.

East Carolina managed little offense and even less resistance on defense as the Cougars marched up and down the field. In fact, Houston had as much to do with keeping the Pirates in the game, with Keenum fumbling away the ball while diving at East Carolina's goal line in the first quarter then throwing an interception that Emanuel Davis returned 11 yards for a score later in the period.

That ultimately helped the Pirates hang around, even as the Cougars' defense allowed them little room. East Carolina managed 275 total yards, with much of that coming after the Cougars had built a three-touchdown lead in the final period. Its offense was so ineffective that Holtz pulled starting quarterback Patrick Pinkney at halftime in favor of backup Rob Kass, who directed a 70-yard scoring drive that ended with Brandon Simmons' 4-yard scoring run that made it 21-17 with 6:02 left in the third.

But the Cougars answered with a 13-play, 64-yard drive to set up Ben Bell's 24-yard field goal. Then, after Houston forced a three-and-out, Keenum scrambled away from pressure to his right side and heaved a pass to Johnson--who had somehow slipped behind the entire defense--for an easy 84-yard score and a 31-17 lead with 14:06 left.

Houston essentially sealed the game a few minutes later, picking off Kass to set up Beall's 5-yard touchdown run for a 38-17 lead with 12:04 left.

Keenum completed 36 of 44 passes on the day for Houston, which had lost its past two games to Air Force and Colorado State by three points each time. Pinkney returned in the fourth quarter and threw for 100 yards and a late score for East Carolina.