The Birmingham Bowl pitted two highly talented programs from the Group of Five against each other for the first time in their respective histories. Coastal Carolina had interim head coach Chad Staggs fill in with the departure of Jamey Chadwell. And if that amount of pending changes to the Chanticleer program weren’t enough to deal with, they ran into a Pirates offense that had their cannons firing from the onset. And while Coastal Carolina appeared ready to match them score-for-score, a critical injury derailed any chance of keeping up. Thanks to a stellar offensive performance, East Carolina wins the Birmingham bowl by the score of 53-29.
Game Changed in Second Quarter
Coming into the game, Coastal Carolina quarterback Grayson McCall had already entered his name into the transfer portal. McCall’s options for landing spots are essentially limitless. So it was a fairly big surprise that he decided to play one last game with the Chanticleers. Any chance of a Coastal Carolina victory was going to start and end with another spectacular effort from McCall. He started off the game with the exact performance Coastal needed. Midway through the second quarter, McCall ran into the endzone for a nine-yard touchdown run, putting Coastal Carolina ahead 14-10. However, in the process of being tackled at the goal line, McCall landed right on the top of his head in the endzone. McCall did not return from the injury. He exited the game having gone 10-for-12 passing for 67 yards and the one rushing touchdown.
Backup quarterback Jarrett Guest played admirably. Guest finished the game six-for-11 passing for 136 yards and one touchdown. It was the Coastal defense that put the offense in a bad position for most of the game. The Pirates scored on four of their first five drives of the game, and one of those drives was stalling out on downs on the CCU 32-yard line. When it was all said and done, ECU only had to punt one time, which didn’t come until the fourth quarter (and happened to get blocked).
East Carolina Wins The Birmingham Bowl Despite Penalties
Pirates head coach Mike Houston has played very disciplined football all year. East Carolina is one of the least penalized teams in the country. But something about the boys from Conway had them playing in a very undisciplined fashion. The Pirates had only been penalized 45 times in 12 games this season. However, against Coastal, East Carolina was called for 11 penalties for 130 yards. And yet, despite all of those penalties, the Pirates never skipped a beat offensively.
East Carolina finished the game with 486 yards of total offense. Quarterback Holton Ahlers was in a rhythm all night. Ahlers went 26-for-38 passing for 300 yards and five touchdowns. Ahlers spread the ball around as four different receivers had a touchdown reception. He also was effective running the ball, carrying it seven times for 48 yards and one touchdown. But Ahlers wasn’t the only one showing out offensively. Running back Keaton Mitchell picked up yards in bunches. Mitchell had 22 rushing attempts for 127 yards, including a 46-yard rush in the first quarter. He also got in on the scoring action with a touchdown of his own.
The major deciding statistic came in the turnover margin. The Pirates have protected the ball well all season while the Chanticleers had not done so in recent weeks. So to see East Carolina win the turnover battle by a mark of 3-0 isn’t a huge surprise. However, East Carolina made the turnovers especially painful and scored touchdowns on two of the three turnovers created. In a season that has been inconsistent in Greenville, East Carolina wins the Birmingham bowl thanks to a focused and consistent execution from start to finish of the game against another very talented Group of Five program.