The score might not look like it, but Ohio made East Carolina earn its 37-20 victory in Monday's Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl.
The Pirates, who entered the game scoring better than 40 points per game, managed only 17 heading into the fourth quarter against the Bobcats' defense. But East Carolina punched in three scores in the final 15 minutes to push by Ohio and claim the program's first 10-win season since 1991 and only its second ever.
The Pirates looked in control early against the Bobcats, jumping out to a 14-0 first-quarter lead with 207 yards of offense in the opening period. But Ohio turned the defense on in the second and third quarters, stopping two ECU fourth-down tries and keeping the Pirates out of the end zone until the final period. After the Bobcats took their first lead of the game with a Josiah Yazdani 28-yard field goal with 13:33 to play, they recovered an onside kick on the ensuing play but couldn't reach the end zone on the next possession and instead missed a field goal.
ECU regained its offensive groove after Ohio's missed opportunity. The Pirates scored touchdowns on three of their final four possessions to take control of the game.
Despite the mid-game struggles, ECU's offensive stars delivered as advertised. Quarterback Shane Carden, who came in with a nation-leading 71.0 completion percentage with 3,866 pass yards and 32 touchdowns, completed 29-of-45 passes for 273 yards and one score. Tailback Vintavious Cooper set a Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl record with 198 rushing yards alongside two touchdowns on 25 carries. The final performances of Carden and Cooper made ECU the only FBS program in the country with a 4,000-yard passer and a 1,000-yard rusher this season. This was a great win for an East Carolina team that had its sights on the Conference USA title game before imploding against Marshall in the regular-season finale. The Pirates entered Monday having lost four straight bowl games, so while the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl might not be a conference championship, East Carolina's first bowl win since 2007 is a good way for the program to close the 2013 season.