Shane Carden threw for a season-high 445 yards, Breon Allen ran for two touchdowns and No. 18 East Carolina pulled away to beat Connecticut 31-21 on Thursday night.
Carden was 38 of 64 during his seventh career 400-yard performance. He helped the Pirates (6-1, 3-0 American Athletic Conference) sidestep a major upset bid by four-touchdown-underdog UConn (1-6, 0-4) in East Carolina's first prime-time, weeknight showcase game in its new league.
Warren Harvey kicked the go-ahead 31-yard field goal with 6:15 left, Carden threw touchdown passes of 13 yards to Justin Hardy and 10 yards to Bryce Williams, and Allen scored on runs of 1 and 9 yards.
Chandler Whitmer was 18 of 30 for a season-high 303 yards with two tying touchdown passes in the third quarter after rushing for a short score for the Huskies.
Carden started the Pirates' go-ahead drive with a 30-yard throw to Hardy one play before Allen's 23-yard run to the 12. When that drive stalled, Harvey — who earlier missed from 33 yards — kicked his field goal to make it 24-21.
East Carolina forced a three-and-out, got the ball back with 5:22 left and ran most of the clock before Allen iced it with his 9-yard scoring run with 1:25 remaining.
Hardy finished with 14 catches for 186 yards, and Cam Worthy added 138 yards receiving on seven receptions to help the Pirates extend the best start since 1999, earn bowl eligibility for the eighth time in nine years and keep themselves in position to contend for one of the major New Year's bowls.
But this one wasn't always so secure — largely because of some untimely mistakes by the Pirates.
In addition to Harvey's missed field goal, Carden threw an interception in the end zone and East Carolina finished with 11 penalties for 105 yards.
Whitmer's 32-yard TD to Noel Thomas made it a 14-all game. His 88-yard catch-and-run to Deshon Foxx — after cornerback Josh Hawkins whiffed on the coverage — pulled UConn to 21-all with 3:43 left in the third.
East Carolina's defense stiffened after that, allowing the Huskies 35 yards combined on their next four possessions.
Still, that this would turn into a tight game seemed almost inconceivable after the quick-starting Pirates scored touchdowns on their first two series.
The first came when Hardy laid out in the end zone — and UConn defender Jhavon Williams grabbed a handful of his jersey — to catch his TD. Carden's scoring pass to Williams made it 14-0 not even 10 minutes in.
That's when UConn tightened things up on defense, and got to work on offense. Whitmer countered with a short scoring plunge on fourth-and-goal from the East Carolina 1 on the next possession.
The Huskies tied it for the first time on their opening possession of the second half on Whitmer's touchdown pass to Thomas — who broke wide open after Detric Allen fell.
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