Turnovers doom East Carolina in 35-20 loss to UNC
It wasn't the kind of encore East Carolina wanted.
A week after tying a school record with seven turnovers in a win over Alabama-Birmingham, the Pirates lost the ball four times in the first half to fall behind big in a 35-20 loss to North Carolina on Saturday.
''You can't turn over the ball and expect to win the game every time,'' East Carolina quarterback Dominique Davis said. ''A great team like UNC, you can't turn over the ball four times and come out with the win. That's what happened, and they answered our turnovers.''
East Carolina's first three possessions ended with a lost fumble, an interception and another lost fumble. The mistakes set up a pair of touchdown passes by Bryn Renner, staked the Tar Heels (4-1) to a 14-0 lead and quieted the Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium-record crowd of 50,610.
East Carolina (1-3), which entered the game tied for the most turnovers per game in the country, now has 17 giveaways in four games.
The Pirates snapped a streak of six consecutive quarters with at least one turnover when they outscored North Carolina 10-0 in the third quarter to cut their deficit to 28-13, but the early hole was too deep to escape.
''We came out focused,'' running back Reggie Bullock said. ''It was just turnovers, and that's what killed us. If we didn't have the turnovers, it would have been a different ballgame.''
For North Carolina, Renner threw four touchdown passes while Giovani Bernard ran for 146 yards and a score.
Renner threw for 230 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown to Erik Highsmith and a 47-yard TD toss to Dwight Jones in a dominating first-half performance by the Tar Heels. North Carolina scored the first 21 points and never looked back, rolling to 326 yards in the opening half.
Davis and East Carolina's offense finally built some momentum in the third quarter, getting a touchdown pass to Lance Lewis. But, while the Pirates managed to move the football most of the game, they never recovered from that disastrous start and fell to 0-3 against BCS teams.
Davis threw for a school-record 417 yards, though many of those yards came in the second half after the Tar Heels had built their huge lead. He also threw two interceptions.
Renner and Jones connected for a second touchdown that ultimately turned away the Pirates' modest rally. With UNC facing a third-and-goal from the 4, Jones snatched a high throw from Renner with his right hand and pulled it into his midsection despite wrestling with Pirates cornerback Emanuel Davis and falling to the turf. The impressive catch pushed the Tar Heels' lead to 35-13 with 6:55 left and sent many of the home fans who hadn't already bolted during halftime heading to the exits.
North Carolina's first trip to Greenville in four years drew a rowdy packed-house crowd that prompted the school to offer standing-room only admission for about 600 fans.
But the energy that filled Dowdy-Ficklen didn't last, due both to the Tar Heels' early dominance and the Pirates' bumbling start.
North Carolina's Tre Boston ripped the ball away from Danny Webster on a catch in UNC territory to end East Carolina's first drive, Davis threw an interception on the second and Bullock fumbled on a carry to end the third. Bullock's fumble marked the fifth straight ECU possession - excluding a kneeldown at the end of the victory over Alabama-Birmingham - that ended with a turnover.
After Davis' pick deep in the Pirates' end, the Tar Heels needed just two plays for Renner to find Jheranie Boyd for an 11-yard touchdown and the game's first score. Then, after Bullock's fumble, Renner found Highsmith alone several steps behind the secondary and hit him in stride over the middle for the 75-yard score that made it 14-0. Bernard followed that by stiff-arming Bradley Jacobs inside the 5 before slipping past him for a 10-yard score that made it 21-0 with 12:57 left in the period.